God in Bahasa is ……..?
By now, we would have been well and truly conversant with the legal, etymological or historical use of the ‘Allah’ word in the Catholic news letter, the Herald, and the Malay language Bible (al Kitab).
And let's not forget the political element as well as the Allah word also serves those with an agenda, a political agenda.
It had been the Catholic Herald’s insistence on using Allah as the Bahasa (Malay language) equivalent of God in the al Kitab which had started the name-calling (wakakaka) brouhaha three years ago.
Now, just a wee review of the various
aspects of the name-calling (wakakaka) tussle:
Legally, High Court Judge Lau Bee Lan had
ruled as unconstitutional the Malaysian government’s ban of the use of Allah as
the Bahasa equivalent of the word God in the Catholic Herald.
I believe the government (then with Syed
Hamid as the Home Minister) had indicated it would appeal. I am not sure where
that appeal currently stands?
On the etymological front, a number of academicians including Muslims have traced its usage to pre Islamic era, and explained that both Arab Muslims and Christians refer to their respective gods as Allah. Of course we shouldn't challenge the finding of their highly qualified clarifications, but nonetheless I have something to comment on the etymological aspect of the Allah word shortly.
Historically, it has been agreed that
Dutch Christian missionaries sometime in the 16th Century translated the Bible
into the Indonesian language by using the word Allah for God.
Why those Dutch missionaries did so has not been questioned nor discussed much but that they had used Allah has been deemed by the Catholic Herald as a precedent which must continue to be accepted even today. I'll also come to this soon.
Politically, of the two Malay-Muslim
parties, UMNO said-says ‘no’, PAS said ‘it’s alright’ but something new has just
cropped up, where PAS has now changed its mind about the word Allah as the equivalent
of God in the Malay language version of the Bible.
Yes, PAS has just said ‘no’ as well (to add to UMNO’s 'nay'), showing its lamentable character in the same way as had been indicated by its recently disintegrated 'promise' wakakaka that non-Muslims won’t be affected by Islamic laws (and/or municipality rules based on Islamic moral values).
PAS’ lack of reliability in its belakang pusing (volte face) from its promise has been a classic case of the Malay idiom cakap ta’serupa bikin. No mate, you can't trust any politician, even and especially those from a religious party, be it Islamic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucianist, Taoist, Bahāʾīs or Ayah Pin-ish, etc, wakakaka.
But let’s leave out this troubling though not unexpected side of
PAS vis-à-vis non-Muslims in this post, where we can then discuss the
topic in a future post.
This post is about the use of the word
Allah as the Bahasa (Malay language) equivalent of God in the Bible.
And I'll be frank that I will undoubtedly hurt many of my Christian friends as I did 3 years ago when this topic first flared up. While I believe on principle there ought not to be a monopolistic use of any word or words, I can understand the Muslim community's worries about the Church’s obdurate intention to use this word, especially more so when I know it’s obligatory, nay, a sacred duty of the Church and Christians to be ‘missionary’ (evangelistic).
Yes, I'm afraid on a personal basis, kaytee isn't all that supportive of the Church’s insistence on using the Allah word to
represent/indicate/describe their Christian God in the Malay language.
Perhaps let me declare my religious
affiliations so that you can be clear where I am coming from (or going to,
I was born to very staunch Buddhist
parents. My late dad and his mum were devoted Theravada Buddhists whilst my
late mum was Mahayana Buddhist, not that they knew the difference between those
schools of Buddhism. Once I attempted to explain to my mum (when she was alive)
about the schools’ doctrinal differences but I gave up when I saw the annoyed
look on her face, wakakaka.
Both my granddads were non-practising Taoists-Confucianists, which may explain why I'm an atheist, wakakaka. Anyway,
I am neither Christian nor Muslim.
Okay, let’s consider the etymological
angle of the Allah word first. Yes, I'm confident of the accuracy of those who have
traced the Allah word and its usage to pre Islamic era, and who have also explained
that both Arab Muslims and Christians refer to their respective gods as Allah.
Yup, I, you, we have all heard the
several arguments that Allah is an Arabic word meaning god and not necessarily
that of the God of Islam only ... yadda yadda yadda ... and therefore
Christians have every right to employ this Allah word because of the word’s
Notwithstanding its etymological
certification, let me tell you what I think of the pro arguments.
First of all, my caustic remarks wakakaka do not
apply to all, but only those who feel my sarcasm, wakakaka.
I am not surprised by the hypocrisy of
some of those who advocate this argument, that because Allah is a generic
Arabic word for god (not necessarily that of Islam,) the Church and Christians
in Malaysia have the right to use it as the Bahasa translation of God.
They are/were hypocritical because:
(a) these very ‘some’ people have been those who have been at laughing (as well as sneering) at the orthodox Malay Muslims (or if you like, Muslim Malays) for wanting to be Arabs or to be Arab-ized rather than just being Muslims, from and in the way they dress in Middle-Eastern desert garb instead of our Malaysian tropical baju or sarung kebaya, etc, or resort to Arabic words when Malay equivalents are available, etc etc.
* Incidentally I'm also one who laughs
at Arab wannabes, wakakaka.
Now, aren't these Christians and their supporters, in arguing for the use of the generic Arabic word Allah as the Bahasa equivalent of God, themselves also Arab wannabes?
(b) hey man, aren't we talking about a Bahasa word for God? Why then invoke an Arabic word?
If they don’t like the word Tuhan because the Church argued that in some instances, the word Tuhan (God) does not convey the required meaning in a biblical passage, why not a Hebrew word then, when after all, Judaism and Christianity share the same God, rather than the one Muslims believe in (yes, this is debatable too)?
Just as an aside, I wonder what’s the
Bahasa word for Father in the Malay language al Kitab? Would it be ‘Ab or
Ayah? Please let me know!
Look, there are so many names for the Hebrew-Christian
God, such as YVWH (Yahweh or, Jehovah), Elohim, Adonai, as well as the
following (with their English meanings):
Adonai-Jehovah - The Lord our Sovereign
El-Elyon -- The Lord Most High
El-Olam - The Everlasting God
El-Shaddai - The God Who is Sufficient
for the Needs of His People
Jehovah-Elohim - The Eternal Creator
Jehovah-Jireh - The Lord our Provider
Jehovah-Nissi - The Lord our Banner
Jehovah-Ropheka - The Lord our Healer
Jehovah-Shalom - The Lord our Peace
Jehovah-Tsidkenu - The Lord our
Jehovah-Mekaddishkem - The Lord our
Jehovah-Sabaoth - The Lord of Hosts
Jehovah-Shammah - The Lord is Present
Jehovah-Rohi - The Lord our Shepherd
Jehovah-Hoseenu - The Lord our Maker
Jehovah-Eloheenu - The Lord our God
And many many more exists.
Will this range of Godly names in Hebrew satisfy the Church’s requirement that in some instances, the word Tuhan does not adequately convey the required meaning in a biblical passage?
|God's names - Kabbala|
C’mon, tell me why the Church must use
the Arabic word for God and not the Hebrew equivalent? [Just leave the
historical angle aside for a while as I'll be coming to it soon].
Let’s see what the Tanakh (Jewish bible)
says in Genesis 1:1?
"In the beginning Elohim created
the heaven and the earth ...".
Now, tell me, doesn't that indicate to us,
in fact indisputably, what is God’s name? So why won’t the Church use Elohim?
Just as a double check, let’s look at the English Bible [King
James Version] of the same passage, where it confirms that "In the
beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth ... "
Thus, on top of Tuhan for God, we have the Hebraic Elohim for God, that is, if the Church doesn't like the word Tuhan. And as I have shown above, there are many more alternatives for God or God’s names.
In Hebrew (not Aramaic), some have argued
that the word Elohim is plural, but as per the Tanakh it is considered as a singular
noun and indeed uses the verb for such. It is meant to signal the single God of
Israel, but you know what, it is actually ideal for the Christian concept of God as a Trinity,
Three yet One.
Velly gnam gnam one lah!
Let us now turn our attention on the man
who started it all, Father Lawrence Andrew of the Catholic Church and the
editor of the Catholic Herald.
Given the experts’ etymological and historical
clarifications on the Allah word, I am in no doubt that Father Lawrence Andrew
is on strong legal grounds to use it ... and indeed we know that the court has
supported his stand.
But I have always believed that religion
is about faith and morality and not legality or for that matter, political
approval. Thus I find it unfortunate that the Father Andrew and the Catholic
Herald had taken the issue to the courts. Surely on a matter of religious faith
and knowledge, there are numerous other names of God it could have use beside
Allah. I view its arguments for the use of Allah as seemingly based on obduracy and legality rather than any plausible unavoidable reason.
So why has Father Lawrence Andrew stubbornly
insisted on doing so?
Let me start off by quoting what he told
AFP in April 2009 about the release of a new Malay language bible that does not
use the word ‘Allah’. The news item was picked up by the Free
Republic, a conservative American online news portal.
Father Andrew was mightily displeased
because the new Malay-language Bible had referred to God as … hello hello there
… Elohim rather than Allah.
He stated "The Catholic bible that
the church uses has the word Allah for God whereas in comparison, this one does
"The new Malay bible weakens the
argument for using the word Allah because some groups are trying to substitute
God with a foreign name, whereas Allah is the Malay word for God and has been
the accepted translation for centuries."
Firstly, I find it rather bizarre, incomprehensible and illogical that
Father Andrew would assert Elohim to be a foreign name for God (which BTW it
is, but wait) while in the same breath dare to claim Allah is not (but a Malay word).
can’t find any logic in his bizarre assertion that Allah is a home grown Malay word while at the same time mouthing the 'foreignness' of the Judeo-Christian Elohim.
Haven’t the language experts already
asserted that the word Allah could be traced to its usage even in pre Islamic
era in the Middle-East, and also explained that both Arab Muslims and Christians refer to their respective gods with that Arabic word, hence it has to be an Arabic (not Malay) word.
Methinks, or rather I'm worried, Father
Andrew had become like Dr Syed Ali Tawfik Al-Attas, the director general of the
Institute of Islamic Understanding, who informed us in 2006 that:
“The Melayu is defined as first being a
Muslim and because he’s a Muslim, he follows the customs and traditions of the
Malays which are derived from Islam, followed by the language of the Malays
which (also) derives from Islam.”
"... the language of the Malays ... derives from Islam"?
Yes, Father Andrew would not be unlike Dr Syed Ali Tawfik Al-Attas, in claiming Allah is a Malay word for God [while in the same breath arguing Elohim is a foreign name].
I wonder whether Father Andrew would consider 'Yeshua', 'Isa' or even 'Jesus' as ‘foreign’ names, and seek their Bahasa equivalents? And as he is from the Catholic Church, may I ask him what he considers the Holy Virgin Mother’s name of 'Mary' or 'Mariam' to be in Bahasa?
Then one just has to ask why he considered
the new Malay-language bible as ‘weakening’ the use of Allah when it has
actually reinforced the original reference to God’s name as Elohim?
Or, perhaps in his subconscious, he had meant that '... the new Malay-language bible as ‘weakening’ his and the Church insistence on the use of Allah'.
Now consider this, hasn't the Catholic
Mass which was originally conducted only in Latin, since been changed to the
language of the locals? So why can’t the use of Allah in the Indonesian al Kitab, as
translated by Dutch missionaries hundreds of years ago, be changed to Elohim, ...
... that is, assuming the Church insists on using the Indonesian version of al Kitab and not the newly published Malaysian edition?
It seems that Father Andrew had been dead set on using the Arabic word Allah to refer to the Christian God, regardless of the superior pedigree (in the Judeo-Christian context) of God’s other names as revealed in the Bible.
And on the pedigree of God’s names, just
to reiterate, the first revelation of God’s personal identity has been in the
Tanakh (Jewish Bible) Book of Genesis 1:1 which says: "In the beginning
Elohim created the heaven and the earth."
So, why did Father Andrew consider
Elohim a foreign name as if it's alien to Christianity, while Allah is not? Aren't we talking about the God of the Judeo-Christian
faith? Or, are we discussing the God of the Islamic faith?
The second name of the Judeo-Christian Divine One as
revealed to Moses was YVWH or Yahweh (later modified to Jehovah) which means 'I
AM WHO I AM' or 'I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE'.
Yahweh is mentioned 6823 times in the
Old Testament, while Elohim scores 2570 times. How many times is Allah?
In fact Elohim is used 66 times at the beginning of the Bible before any other Hebrew word appears for the English word
There are various other names besides
Elohim and Yahweh to describe God and Jesus (eg. Immanuel), with the latter being found in the
Really, what is the motive behind Father
Andrew’s rejection of Elohim, the original name of the Judeo-Christian God, and
his obdurate insistence on the use of the Arabic Allah to refer to the Christian God when
locally it has always been recognized that Allah refers to the God of the
We now arrive at the historical aspect
of the issue, that Dutch Christian missionaries sometime in the 16th Century
translated the Bible into the Indonesian language by using the word Allah for
As mentioned, why those Dutch
missionaries did so had not been questioned but that they had used Allah has
been seized by the Catholic Herald as a precedent which must continue to be
accepted even today.
Firstly, the Dutch were known by the
Indons as cruel and arrogant colonialists who didn't give two figs about the
natives and their feelings.
Secondly, let us also not forget that Christianity
and indeed Islam as well are both evangelistic missionary religions with an
obligation on the faithful to convert the so-called pagans, for altruistic
reasons of course.
But the late A Powell Davies, a minister
of the All Souls Church in Washington, advised us that “True religion, like our
founding principles, requires that the rights of the disbeliever be equally
acknowledged with those of the believer.” I reckon the well-meaning bloke was pissing into the
I dare say those Dutch Christian
missionaries were out to convert the Indonesian pagans (Muslim and others) into
Christianity with whatever it took, and would have found the use of the word Allah
as a convenient substitute for the Christian God in persuading the native
Muslims that the conversion to Christianity would be nothing more than a
seamless worship to the same Allah, albeit with some minor adjustments to the rituals.
Thus the argument that the 16th Century Dutch had been doing this or that during dictatorial colonial circumstances would today be just not good enough for the Church to persist along that line.
Besides, we know the Bahasa word Tuhan is available, and if
it is not suitable enough, then there are numerous alternatives to the God word without the
need to infringe on the Muslims’ Allah.
The other argument that the local Church is
dependent on Indonesian publication has been overthrown by Father Andrew
himself, when he told AFP in April 2009 there was a release of a new Malay
language bible that does not use the word Allah.
That he didn't like it is beside the point
but it disproves that old argument that the Church had no choice but to use the Allah
word as it is dependent on the Indon publication of al Kitab, which carries the
It’s also an insult to Sabahans and
Sarawakians to argue they would be confused if the al Kitab carries the word
Tuhan or Elohim or Yahweh or Adonai for God.
Really, I have to ask again of Father Lawrence
Andrew and the Church: “What is really your goal in obdurately pursuing the use
of the word Allah to refer to the Christian God in a Malay-language newsletter
and Bible when so many other names of your Christian God, with even better
biblical pedigree, remain available?”
Friedrich Nietzsche reminded us: “Many
are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the
But all my views above do not mean I
support PAS’ belakang pusing, wakakaka.