Many of us would like to express our gratitude to Selangor MB, Azmin Ali for orchestrating the return of the Malay and Iban language bibles which were seized by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) in January 2014
Under the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution (which contains the legislative lists), religion is under the purview of the state
As per Frank Murphy (former US Supreme Court judge), “religious freedom is too sacred a right to be restricted or prohibited in any degree without convincing proof that a legitimate interest of the state is in grave danger”
Although religious issues are under the scope of the state, it is trite law that state enactments cannot contradict the Federal Constitution which is the ultimate law of the land.
Prima facie, the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation among Muslims) Enactment 1988 is constitutional as it is made as per Article 11(4) Federal Constitution which allows for laws to be made to control or restrict the propogation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam
Under section 9(1)(a) of the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation among Muslims) Enactment 1988,
a person commits an offence if he in any published writing uses any of the words listed in Part I of the Schedule, or any of its derivatives or variations, to express or describe any fact, belief, idea, concept, act, activity, matter, or thing of or pertaining to any non-Islamic religion
At first glance it appears as though as the Malay and Iban bibles breached s. 9(1)(a) by virtue of containing “Allah.” However, there shouldn’t be an offence under the enactment for the following reasons
Firstly, there is no proof of propogation because the bibles were taken from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM)’s premises. At most, JAIS can say they acted under suspicion, but whether their suspicion is reasonable is a different story
Then BSM president, Lee Min Choon, pointed out that all its Malay bibles were imprinted with a picture of the cross and the words ‘Penerbitan Kristian’ on the cover and noted that the Home Ministry regularly inspects its bible shipment imports .
This is a huge sacrifice on the part of BSM to abide by the law in order to ensure that its customers may have access to Malay bibles
As to why the bibles are in our national language, “more than 60 per cent of Malaysian Christians only speak Bahasa Malaysia, and the word used for God in the Bahasa Malaysia Bible (Al-Kitab) since its translation in 1731, is “Allah.”
“The word is used by Bumiputera Christians who only have Bahasa Malaysia as their common language in Sabah, Sarawak and peninsular Malaysia, and by the Baba community in Malacca” (Christian Federation of Malaysia)
Regarding why the Bibles are in Selangor and not in Sabah and Sarawak, it is important to note that BSM is the one that imports, prints and distributes Malay bibles to Sarawak and Sabah (as per Nic Ng, BSM’s executive council member). Perhaps the bibles were in storage awaiting importation?
Even if some of the bibles were not to be imported, it shouldn’t be an issue that the bibles are in Selangor because there are Malay speaking Christians in peninsula Malaysia (e.g. sabahans and sarawakians who come over looking for jobs)
If Malay language bibles aren’t allowed in Selangor, it would most definitely infringe on the right of the Malay speaking Christians to freely practice their religion (enshrined in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution)
In June, after much investigation and deliberation, the Attorney-General (AG) accurately concluded that JAIS erred in seizing the bibles and ordered for the case to be closed.
US Politician, Mike Quigley once wisely said that the “protection of religious freedom means considering the faiths and beliefs of everyone involved.”
In future, JAIS and other religious enforcement agencies should not be so overzealous, especially when dealing with holy books of other religions. Perhaps a more thorough investigation (which would have made the raid unnecessary) could have prevented this dark dent in our history
Even if the roles were reversed and Qur’ans were superfluously seized, right thinking Malaysians would stand up and speak out against the blatant infringement of the freedom of religion!
*This awesome article featured in The Malaysian Insider, Malaysiakini, Malaysia Chronicle, and The Malay Mail Online
The whole “Allah” issue has somewhat been a thorn in our flesh. Just recently, Selangor MB, Azmin Ali exclaimed that the siezed Bibles belongs to the Christians and should thus be returned to them.
Abu Bakar Yahya (Selangor Perkasa chief) then expressed his concern that Azmin’s action of returning the Bibles with the word “Allah” in them would “…threaten the future of Malay Muslim youth. This means Islam is under threat”
Despite the fact that the Christian Federation of Malaysia wrote an article explaining when, why, and how the word “Allah” is used in the Al-Kitabs, there is still a general lack of understanding amongst Malaysians.
Let me now clarify that I’m not a religious scholar or even remotely trained in the field of comparative religions. I am just a Malaysian who is trying to be objective about the use of the word “Allah” by Christians
Let us consider the following propositions:
Proposition 1: “Allah” is an arabic word
Many academics hold the view that the word “Allah” is derived from the arabic words “al” (the) and “ilah” (god/deity).
“Allah is formed by joining the definite article al meaning ‘the’ with Ilah (God). Literally, Allah means ‘The God’.” [Huston Smith, The World’s Religions, p.222]
“Etymologically, Allah is probably a contraction of the Arabic al-ilahh, “the God,” although the Aramaic Alaha has also been proposed. The origin of the name can be traced to the earliest Semitic writings in which the word for god was Il or El, the latter bring in the Old Testament synonym for Yahweh. Known to Arabs even in pre-Islamic times, Allah is standard Arabic for God and is used by Arab Christians as well as Muslims.” [Encyclopedia Britannica Micropedia (Vol. 1; p. 250)]
Renowned Iranian-American scholar of religious studies, Reza Aslan also supports this proposition
[d] (k) r ‘l’-’lh bn’mt Mnfw w-Tlh’ bn Mr’ l-Qys w-Srgw bn S’dw w-Strw w-Syl [.] thw.
The apparent scribblings above is actually a pre-Islamic archaeological inscription (dated ca. 512AD) found in Zabad (60km south-east of Aleppo) that shows the word al-ilah was already used by Christians then
Operating on the assumption that “Allah” was derived from “al” and “ilah,” the only apparent requirement to the use of the Arabic word would be monotheism. As we all know, words must be used according to its meaning, and in the proper context
A huge misconception is that Christians believe and worship three gods, hence their usage of the “Allah” word is erroneous. That could not be further from the truth!
The doctrine of the Trinity refers to ONE God who exists as THREE distinct persons. The fact that Christians believe in and worship only ONE God would render their usage of the word “Allah” according to its meaning and in the proper context
If “Allah” is truly an Arabic word, it’s definition would be based on its meaning and not what the Qur’an says in Surah Al-Ikhlas (112th Sura of the Qur’an) or what other sources say are the prerequisite to the use of the word
Many scholars have also brought forward the idea that the use of “Allah” predates Islam
The word ‘Allah’ was a term used for the supreme God in a pantheon of gods, before the revelation of Islam. (The Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam ed., H.A.R. Gibb & J.H.Kramer and The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, ed. John L. Esposito)
“The name Allah is also evident in archaeological and literary remains of pre Islamic Arabia” (Dr Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret , New York:OUP, 1956, p. 31)
“Allah is found . . . in Arabic inscriptions prior to Islam” ( Encyclopedia Britannica, I:643)
The translation of the Al-Kitab is not from the English translation but based on the Hebrew and Greek text of the Bible. In the Hebrew language, the word ‘God’ has the same root form as the Arabic language. So, when the word ‘God’ was first translated into Bahasa Malaysia, the translators merely followed the Arabic Christian usage and retained the word ‘Allah’
Historically, Malay-speaking Christians in South-East Asia have used ‘Allah’ to refer to God. The proofs are as follows:
• The Kitab salat as-sawai or Christian catechisms in Malay written in 1514 and published around 1545,
• The printed version of the Gospel of Matthew in Malay by A.C. Ruyl in 1629,
• Malay-Latin Dictionary was printed in Rome in 1631 (The Dictionarium Malaicum-Latinum and Latinum – Malaicum)
• The translation of Genesis by D. Brouwerius (1662),
• M. Leijdecker’s translation (1733),
• H.C. Klinkert’s translation (1879),
• W.A. Bode’s translation (1938), and
• The complete Malay Bible of 1731-1733 containing the word ‘Allah’ for God.
There is also a book from the 19th century titled “Porkara Terakhir” (The Final Matter). It is a book of prayers for Catholics in native Malay. A text in the book goes, “Ia, Maha Penebus ku, tiap kali beita sudah buat dosa, sudahlah beita mengalau angkau deri hati ku, sambel choba membunoh Allah sabuleh nha…” It is a day-to-day language of the ancient or olden Malay Language; sentences like that do not exist in the Indonesian language
Furthermore, there is a Catholic prayer book titled “Worship Daily”, published in 1890, which also used ancient Malay. An example of a text in the book is “Sapuloh Penhurohan Allah”, which is the 10 Pillars of Biblical Commandments (Ten Commandments). Note how both of those books use the word “Allah” to mean God
Not many of us are aware by this but even the Sikh holy book mentions “Allah” quite a number of times. Surprisingly we don’t hear the likes of Perkasa and ISMA creating a ruckus over this fact.
Proposition 2: “Allah” is not an Arabic word
“Allah … is a proper name applied to the Being Who exists necessarily, by Himself, comprising all the attributes of perfection, a proper name denoting the true god … the al being inseparable from it, not derived…” (Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon)
If Allah is not an arabic word, is it only exclusive to muslims considering their worldwide usage? In January 2013, PAS’ Syura Council decreed that “Allah” is a specific and holy word used to refer to the Muslims’ god
However, former Perlis mufti, Dato’ Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin said that Islam allows for followers of other faiths to call their gods “Allah” if they are referring to the Supreme Being
Swiss-Muslim theologian Dr Tariq Ramadan is also of the opinion that “Allah” is not exclusive to the Muslims
According to Francis Edwards Peters , “The Qur’ān insists, Muslims believe, and historians affirm that Muhammad and his followers worship the same God as the Jews (29:46)
If indeed no one but the muslims are allowed to use “Allah,” wouldn’t Saudi Arabia (where Islam came from) and Indonesia (the country with the largest population of muslims in the world) have said/did something about it a long time ago?
Instead, what we see is that the usage of “Allah” is tolerated and is not even a point of contention in those countries (unlike here in Malaysia)
Now let’s look at some frequently asked questions
FAQ 1: Why must the Christians use BM?
First and foremost, BM is the national language. On top of that, more than 60 per cent of Malaysian Christians only speak Bahasa Malaysia, and the word used for God in the Bahasa Malaysia Bible (Al-Kitab) since its translation in 1731, is ‘Allah’.
The word is used by Bumiputera Christians who only have Bahasa Malaysia as their common language in Sabah, Sarawak and peninsular Malaysia, and by the Baba community in Malacca.
Nowehere in English, Tamil or Mandarin church services would you hear the word “Allah” being mentioned
FAQ 2: Why don’t Christians use “Tuhan” as the BM translation for “God”?
The current position in the Al-Kitab is that “Tuhan” is used as the BM translation for “Lord” while “Allah” is used for “God.” In Isaiah chapter 41 and verse 13; also 43:3 and 51:15. “For I am the LORD, your GOD…” is translated as “Akulah TUHAN, ALLAH kamu…”. (ALKITAB : Berita Baik. 2001. 2nd edition. Published by the Bible Society of Malaysia).
It creates an absurd situation if Christians have to translate the biblical phrase ‘Lord God’ as Tuhan Tuhan. The repeated words Tuhan Tuhan indicates plurality in Bahasa Malaysia, and creates the false impression that Christians believe in many gods, which is fundamentally incorrect theologically
FAQ 3: Why doesn’t the Vatican or Christians in the West use “Allah”?
The answer is pretty simple. If “Allah” is an arabic word for “God”, the Vatican and the Christians in the West wouldn’t need to use it because they have other word(s) in their language(s) to mean “God”
A basic analogy would be the word “makan” which is the BM word for “eat.” How come we never ask why the Vatican or Westerners don’t use the word “makan”? That’s because it’s common sense that in whatever language they speak, there would be a word/words that mean “eat,” hence there is no need for the word “makan”
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI used “Al-Rab” when giving a blessing in Arabic. Many Malaysians then got the idea that instead of using “Allah,” why not follow the Pope and use “Al-Rab”?
First of all, Al-Rab is arabic for “The Lord” and NOT “The God.” Therefore, even if the Christians in Malaysia were to use “Al-Rab,” it would only be replacing the word “Tuhan” and not the word “Allah” in the Al-Kitab
Besides that, the literal meaning of the word “Rab” is Sustainer , Master and/or “Nourisher” which bears more resemblance with the English word “Lord” than “God”
FAQ 4: Why not use “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” instead?
The answer is similar to that of FAQ 1. Jehovah is a Latinisation of the Hebrew יְהֹוָה , a vocalization of the Tetragrammaton יהוה (YHWH). YHWH is in ancient Hebrew which has no vowels, thus its pronunciation is not agreed on.
However, most academics agree that “Yahweh” is the most accepted way to say it. In some English language Bibles, YHWH is written in all capital letters as “LORD,” as in Jewish tradition
Jehovah and Yahweh are in English. The issue is, how do we convert the original Hebrew word to BM in order that it may be used in the Al-Kitab? And even IF that’s possible, how do you change hundreds of years of using “Allah” to this new word?
– Christian Federation of Malaysia’s article
– Project Dialogue’s interview of Father Andrew
– The Micah Mandate
– Bible Believers
– PLIM Report
– Sikhi Wiki
– The Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement
A reply to:
Ganti Tuhan dengan Allah strategik Kristianisasi kata NGO
The Secretary-General of Pertubuhan Muafakat Sejahtera Masyarakat Malaysia, Mr Abdul Karim Omar claims that the use of the word “Allah” to replace God in the Bible was/is part of the Christianisation strategy. The statement cannot be further from the truth.
Firstly, he clearly did not do his research or he would’ve found out that in the Bible, there are many verses using the phrase ‘Lord God’. If the word Allah (currently used as the translation for “God” in the Al-Kitab), is replaced by Tuhan, the verses would translate Lord God as “Tuhan Tuhan”
That is a fundamental doctrinal error as it gives the impression that Christians worship more than one God. Furthermore, the word Lord and the word God carries different meanings. It would be inaccurate to use one word (i.e. Tuhan) to replace both the words “Lord” and “God”
Furthermore, the use of the word “Allah” is an integral part of the Christian faith, especially those in Sabah & Sarawak. Christians there have been praying and worshipping using the word “Allah” for hundreds of years. This is evidenced by “a century old Catholic prayer book” in BM
Article 3(1) allows religions other than Islam to be practiced in peace and harmony. If Christians in Sabah and Sarawak have been using it for more than 100 years in peace and harmony, who are we to say it is not an integral part of their faith? Who are we to infringed their freedom to practice their religion? (Article 11 Federal Constitution). It’s pretty evident that the whole fight is just so that the Christians in Sabah and Sarawak can maintain their current practice and is NOT meant to proselytize to the muslims
What is more epic is that even PAS agrees that non-muslims can use the word “Allah” provided it is not misused
Moreover, the secretary general of Muafakat’s statements that, “komuniti Kristian evangelis yang cuba memurtadkan komuniti Islam mula menggunakan kaedah “Strategi Kontekstualisasi” untuk lebih mendekati komuniti Melayu Islam melalui budaya dan adat resam mereka.” is not supported by any hard evidence. Propagation of any religion to Muslims is an offence. If Muafakat has any evidence at all to corroborate their claim, I suggest you make a police report and let the authorities handle it
Even the Al-Kitab’s which were seized by JAIS were meant to be for the BM speaking Christians, be it in Semenanjung Malaysia or in Sabah or Sarawak. The Bibles are NOT used to confuse Muslims and convert them (as claimed by certain parties)
As to Mr Abdul Karim Omar’s statement, “sekiranya trend memurtadkan umat Islam berkembang, menjelang tahun 2100, penganut Islam
dan Kristian akan berada dalam sekitar 40%, manakala lain-lain kaum berada pada paras 20%,” I answered it quite extensively in one of my earlier articles
Mengambil Korea Selatan sebagai contoh, Karim berkata pada 1905 jumlah Kristian hanya 0.5% daripada populasi negara itu. Tetapi akibat perkembangan pesatnya pada tahun 1970an dan 1980an, ia meningkat kepada 30% pada 2005, katanya.
“Ia berlaku di Korea Selatan dan boleh berlaku di sini,” tambahnya
He clearly did not take into account that it is a crime to proselytize to Muslims in Malaysia. *facepalm* A failure to look into the social setting will lead to such skewed views
In conclusion, please stop spreading all these false anti-christian sentiments. Unless of course you want to tear our nation apart and cause our forefathers to roll in their graves out of disappointment and disgust