The Christian community in Malaysia by and large is aware that there are two legal suits pending in the High Courts to determine whether we have the right to use the word "Allah". 9 July 2008 is a very important date. The latest development now witnesses Sikh's participation in the fray. Four State Islamic Councils have already applied to be the respondents in this case. They are Majlis Agama Islam dan Adat Melayu Perak (MAIAMP), Majlis Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan (MAIWP), Majlis Agama Islam dan Adat Melayu Terengganu (Maidam) and Majlis Agama Islam Pulau Pinang (MAIPP). Its outcome has far reaching implications over the missio praxis particularly among the Malay-speaking congregations who mostly are bumiputera of Sabah, Sarawak and Orang Asli of Semananjung Malaysia. In this context, our church leaders (ordained, lay and including politicians) are in the forefront to battle it out for us so to speak in the court of law. They are exercising their roles and responsibilities as church leaders. We thank God for them and we are grateful to them for doing what they are doing. Frankly speaking, making the final judgment is not going to be easy for the judges who will preside over the two cases.
As I searched the internet on the universal usage of the word "Allah" with particular reference to its currency in the Malaysian contexts, I came across Micah Mandate. I salute Mr Goh for interviewing Tan Sri Bernard Dompok in Putrajaya on major issues, among other things, religious freedom - the use of "Allah" by the Christian community in particular. I do not know Tan Sri very well but I do know one or two politicians who are close to him and through them I know he is a man of principle. Therefore, I BELIEVE in his words. Another contributor in the same site described the turn of events leading to the two court cases (I mentioned earlier) on the word "Allah": one was filed by the Roman Catholic Church (RC) and the other suit was filed by Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB).
The use of "Allah" in our Alkitab, kebaktian kudus, khotbah, latihan perlengkapan, perbualan, etc is long established. It may not be used every second of our daily lives but it is certainly used right through the rites of passages from the day one is baptized as an infant to the day of his or her funeral. It is used in Sunday or weekday services in churches as well as in our homes, in our daily prayers, teachings or cell group meetings. We continue to praise God in heaven and I believe God would accept our praises and worship containing the word "Allah" if we were to use it to address and worship him (see Rev 7:9-12). In short, it is impossible to cease the use of Allah from our communal and religious life.
We have used this word even before Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963. In fact the Malaysia Bible Society authority would affirm that the word "Allah" has been used in the Malay translation of Mathew's Gospel in 1612 some 350 years before the idea of Malaysia was ever conceived. When Malaysia was formed and proclaimed Bahasa Melayu (now Bahasa Malaysia) became the national language and Islam the official religion. Other religions were freed to exist, express and propagate their faiths. For us, the freedom enshrined in the Constitution also included the free use of words, phrases, terms and terminologies including the word "Allah". I do not think that from that day onward Christians were no longer allowed to use "Allah" in their community? I am interested to find a specific clause in our Federal Constitution spelling out that beginning 1963 Christians no longer can use "Allah" because it would confuse the Muslims and only Muslims can use the word. What has happened I suggest is rather an afterthought pronouncement so to speak, and if so, what other proactive approach could be taken to rectify it? For example, it is far effective to educate Malaysians regarding the use of Allah than legislate its use.
The word has become part of our story telling very early in our struggle towards nation building If we were to delete this most central and fundamental word from our vocabs; we would create huge vacuum in our Christian education programs. It impedes our understanding and teaching of who our God Almighty is. Our prayer language is devoid of the most fundamental truths and understanding of our God who became man, died and rose again and to whom we now make petitions. Charting this path of removing the word in our story telling may seem to others an effortless task - just a delete and forget processes. Or, just use another word - Tuhan. But we cannot underestimate the power of words. Nor can we easily brush aside history and the attachment associated with the word. This Allah word, when rightly taught and correctly understood evokes feelings of intimacy, love, fear, respect, honour and worship of God. It is intrinsic to our ecclesiastical, religious, linguistic and spiritual landscape. We are proud to use a foreign word that has become our national language and ecclesiastically proper when used to address and worship our God. Now we might face the possibility to forget it? The concern that we will lose this privilege to use the word "Allah" is real.
We must also allay the fear among Muslims that we might use the word to confuse or win them over. It is a legitimate concern, especially in the context of Malaysia. I sincerely believe the Christian community will not resort to this scheme. We know we cannot evangelise Muslims and that we can be prosecuted when doing so. What is the difference between our Allah and their Allah? I have sisters and many relatives who are married to Muslims by choice and converted to Islam. If they ask me to explain my "Allah" I will reply that my "Allah" is he who is righteous, loving, compassionate and forgiving. He hates sin but loves the sinner. No one has ever seen Allah because he is spirit but he became human and lived among humans. He died for everybod and rose to heaven. Whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. That is my "Allah". Period.
In Malaysia's multi-religious framework it is well and good to settle things amicably in the spirit of musyawarah. Musyawarah is considered a vital tool in problem-solving. However, going by the present situation we might as well allow the court to help settle this case once and for all. Let us pray that the judgment favours us. If the judgment does not favour us this scenario will take place; we cannot use the word "Allah" anymore in our daily conversation, religious or community activities. The reason is because we might "confuse" the followers of the official religion of this country. As a pastor-teacher-preacher and theologian in the local church I naturally follow this event with interest and anticipation because it has far reaching implications in the way we treat our literature, liturgy, songs, ministry and mission enterprises, etc. What will be our next option (I am not answering this question in this article, yet)?
By the way, in the context of the universal declaration of human rights, does one has the right to require an adherent of another religion not to use a specific word because that specific word belongs only to his religion? The two judges shoulder a heavy responsibility in interpreting the law when they preside over the two pending and separate court cases over a common issue - the right to use the word "Allah" We trust in God and pray that the court will deliver a favourable judgment to us.
(By LIDIS SINGKUNG/ MySinchew)
Lidis Singkung is an Anglican clergyman and also a Kadazandusun. Presently
he serves in St Patrick's Anglican Church in Tawau). Used by permission of