Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Allah Controversy and the Confiscated Bibles

Malaysia once more hits the world news for all the wrong reasons :
Malaysian authorities have confiscated more than 15,000 Bibles in recent months because they referred to "God" as "Allah," a translation that has been banned in this Muslim-majority country, Christian church officials said Thursday.
This issue about whether Christians are allowed to refer to God as Allah when they use Malay should have been resolved by the courts, but two years later the case brought by The Roman Catholic Church who say the present ruling it is unconstitutional and discriminates against those worshiping in Malay language (i.e the national language, the medium of education!) is still stuck in preliminary hearings for almost two years.


Fadz said...

Even I felt something is off when Allah is used in the Bible, and I'm not religious!

While both religions believe in the One God, and both have the same roots, the whole world is raised to see Allah, Yahweh, Christian God as seperate entities. Prolly because of the different practices, but people are not willing to see that they have the same faith, the conviction, to one God.

Plus, it is hard enough to get young people to read the Quran, much less to delve into its Messages, its teachings. Have Allah's name in the Bible, the young generation may start to think that the two Holy Books are the same, and the teachings/practices are interchangable.

Faith is one thing. Throughout history wars have run rampart in the name of organized religions.

I think the authorities have a valid point in trying to avoid confusion. A question, though. Prior to its printing, did this translated version of the Bible go through some kind of screening before given the green light?

On a much darker note, check this page:

The director of '2012', Mr Emmerich, contemplated on destroying the Kaabah in his movie, but was talked out of it by his co-writer. They don't want a fatwa on their heads. But the comments that follow the People still blame Islam and Muslims in general for it. So many haters in the world.

Which brings me back to this topic. Should the whole world embrace the concept that the old religions have a common origin? In a utopian world, that's a dream come true. As it is, a lot of people are defensive and protective of their religions. So it's better for organized religions to be exclusive, and it's enough that people understand each other, and respect one another.

Sepoi said...

Indonesian Christians have been using the word Allah in their Bible since, well at the very least since the founding of the republic in 1945- and there has never been a confusion between the two holy books. Beside, the pronunciation is a bit different: (islamic) Allah (Aw-loh) and (christian) Allah (Al-lah).

I think the Malaysian government severely underestimate their citizen's intelligence.

Fadz said...

Well, in Indonesia a family can have a Christian husband, a Muslim wife, a Buddhist son and a confused daughter, and no one thinks twice about them. Here, a Muslim family is a Muslim family. Interracial marriages are still frowned upon. Interreligious marriages...well, I know a few people who got disowned for that. And I'm not talking about Muslim people here.

Pronunciation-wise, well, Westerners can't roll their tongue at the name when they're not used to it. They still say Al-lhah. It's like you're saying toh-mhah-toh and to-mae-toe. While tomatoes may sound different, they mean the same thing. We're talking about the Higher Power. God.

As I said, when it comes to organized religions, blurring the lines can get messy.

If I have to use writing as an example, literary people are adamant that literary books are the only form of written art (of prose medium), and commercial novels are trash. They get mighty defensive if people think Stephen King's or Dan Brown's novels are literary, and not genre/commercial fiction. They have a clear line of what literary is, and blurring that line is a big no-no.

Oxymoron said...

Maybe the Bible can drop one of the ls and make it Alah? :)

I thought they stamp "For Non-Muslims Only" on all Christian literature.

Zed Adam said...

"Well, in Indonesia a family can have a Christian husband, a Muslim wife, a Buddhist son and a confused daughter..."

Confused? About her sexuality? I don't think it's religious confusion because Indonesians are free to choose whichever religion, a luxury the Malays don't have here, thus "confusion" happens. I have an Indonesian friend whose family is a rojak of faiths, a true muhibbah in every sense of word, no confusion whatsoever. She grew up free to choose whichever religion she wants to go with, but ended up an atheist, haha.

I think it's about time we stop treating Allah like a brand. It's merely 'God' in Arabic. You know how most local English subtitles translate 'Allah' to 'Allah', branding it further, but if you notice the Tarawih footage from Arab tv clearly translate it as 'God'.

We have this parroting obsession, imitating without really knowing the true meanings behind those scriptures, and this is the outcome. What's next, you have to wear tudung to learn Arabic? What, bahasa syurga? Please, syurga is multilingual.


Greenbottle said...

oxymoron my friend...i don't think dropping one L works (Alah). because that may get some of the girls mad... i know a few that like to say "Alah hai..." and that has nothing to do with god.

i guess the easiest way out is for the bible's GOD to be translated this way: Allah and add Jesus' daddy in bracket.

Isa Kamari said...

A rose by any name is still a rose. There is only One, Allah.

Fadz said...

Zed: ...Indonesians are free to choose whichever religion, a luxury the Malays don't have here...

From the sound of it, you're not happy to be a Muslim (if you are one. If you're not, then you must know some Malay friends who are not happy being Muslims).

It is a clause in the Constitution, where the definition of Malay is of Malay parentage (either), practicing Malay rites and traditions, and a Muslim. The clause may have been too limiting, but our forefathers built this country to be an Islamic country.

When God created Man, God gave him free will. It's up to the individual to practice, to preach, to ignore all the teachings.

It is saddening to see how religion is treated so callously, as evident in this discussion.

Greenbottle has raised an interesting point. Christians believe that God is Jesus's daddy. In Islam, humans can never reach divinity. God is out of human ken. God is singular. To think that God can sire a human being, well, in Islam it's outright blaspheme.

Fine, Allah, God, Yahweh, Adonai, Elohim, those are just terminologies for the Divine. Allah has 99 names, to be exact.

But for any Muslim readers out there, how do you feel, when your 6-year-old comes back home from an Australian school, asking you, "Abah, why don't we pray to Jesus?" or "Jesus Christ!" whenever he falls?

That's not a hypothetical example. It really happened to my specialist when he was posted there.

So yes. Mere terminologies. But you're thinking about here and now. Think about 20 years down the road, when children play together at school, and when their conversations turn to theology, and they use the same name, Muslim kids start to think that God had a son, and Christian kids will start to think that they have to fast a whole month every year.

For the sake of argument, I'm assuming you're parents here. Why don't you let your children call the father "Mother/Mama" and vice versa? They are just names, terminologies for 'parent'. Would you get confused, since you grew up thinking that Daddy/Papa is for males, and Mummy/Mama is for females? Would you get embarrassed when the general population hear your children call you by the wrong name? Now think about those children. If they grew up with the wrong terminologies, they would think that other people are abnormal, because they grew up with the blind conviction that black is white.

savante said...

Stupid politics. If you follow the letter of the law, it would have been resolved in kindergarten.

Zed Adam said...


I take it you are troubled by the concept of apostasy. All I'm saying is that there is a need for religious freedom, maybe not currently, but one day it will be inevitable, it's basic human rights. Any form of oppression will result in a bottlenecked development.


bibliobibuli said...

Fadz - i know quite a few Malays who are miserable being Muslims. i've made my own peace with the religion but i do feel that i was forced into it because of marriage. i do believe that people should have the choice and that it is a basic human right, so i'm with Zed.

Fadz said...

Sharon, Zed: I'm not disagreeing with you, and I'm not here to preach. As the matter of fact, I'm sure I won't even get a whiff of Heaven, so I'm the last person in the world qualified to talk about Islam or the validity of organized religions. Did our forefathers make a mistake in defining Malay as Muslim and Muslim as Malay? Maybe. I have Indian-Muslim friends who have to correct other people when being called Malay. Because here in Malaysia, if you're a Muslim, somehow you become a Malay (not in the IC, though). And that perception is wrong.

Islam in our country is also now a culture, and not so much a matter of faith. So we have lots of Muslims by birth, and not by choosing. Does that make for a poor Muslim? I need only look at the mirror to see the proof. But in the heat of labeling religions, we tend to forget that they are there to instill good values in everyone. No religion (that I know of) allows us to kill another person. No religion tells us to steal. We are so hung up on the restrictions, the practices, the 'burdens', that we forget that religions exist as a guideline for us to be decent, peace-loving humans. It's just that the fine values, the practices, the belief in the nature of divinity, differ with each faith system. Religions are used to start wars, when it's not about religion at all, but about power and wealth, and mostly control.

What I'm trying to say all this while is that names are sacred. Even in fiction; give a character a name, and that character has to perform a significant role. Because by naming something (and someone), you give that object/person power. It has always been like that. Take Kuala Lumpur for instance. The name is not copyrighted or trademarked. A village in the depths of Kelantan can be called Kuala Lumpur. But will the two places mean the same? Since this is a blog about writing, let me put my points in a familiar fashion.

* * * * *

Shahril looked at the photograph of sunrise at a cove. The sand was pristine white, the waves rolling and crashing on the outcropping of black rocks. Fish-scale clouds littered the the sky, which was a beauty of a red-to-indigo gradient. "This picture is amazing!"

Liana beamed. "Kan? I'm proud of that shot."

"Where did you snap this?"


Shahril raised his right eyebrow. "When did you go to Europe? I thought you went to Perth."

"It's a small village, somewhere along the road on our way to the Valley of Giants."


"Australia lah, you gundu."

"I thought you shot this picture in Denmark."

"Denmark, Western Australia." Liana was no longer smiling.

* * * * *

See the confusion? While God is Standard English for divinity, its Malay translation is Tuhan, which is also not religion-specific.

So how do you propose this translation sounds:

Jesus, the Son of God.


Jesus, anak Allah.

However I look at it, it feels awkward, a blaspheme, and more than that, deep inside, it feels wrong. So maybe I'm a bit uptight this way, but when something is wrong, your gut tells you it's wrong. And my gut twists up in the most uncomfortable manner when I see that translation.

btw: my word verification is huratic. So maybe I'm wrong here, maybe I have a point. I don't want to argue, just stating my opinion

Greenbottle said...

religious freedom in islam does not exist when you voluntarily enter into the religion. it is simply because for every little thing there is a rule in fact the very thing salman rushdie parodied in the satanic o ye muslims ...tough luck...just live with it...

having said that, i must tell you that i'm a practising muslim (more or less) and i thank god everyday that i'm a muslim and not some guy who is born to worship a frog or something.

when i look at the beauty of islamic art, the islamic philosophy and read about the lives of islamic prophets and saints makes me want to cry...i guess other people who profess other religions feel the same about theirs too... as it should be...

and for those proud to be irreligious...i feel only pity for you...spirituality is the most beautiful thing in the world...

as they say in Islam...Masha Allah

savante said...

For simpleminded folks who are so easily confused with religion, I doubt keeping the names separate would be enough. Maybe different fonts and colours?

Zed Adam said...

Greenbottle, I've always liken religion to marriage, most of the times they work, other times they do not. And when you can't get out of that failed marriage, it's like living in a hardcore communist country or being one of the Mafias - once in, there's no way out. Get out, and you are allowed to be killed.

And spirituality is irrespective to religiousness. Godliness is another aspect of faith where you skip institutionalised religion altogether and just be with God. God is forever but religion dies with its bearer. Simplicity, for me, is the way to go.


whiteTulipz ^_^ said...

Allah != others entities; =(^_^)=

pennyrimbaud said...

it's nature that when you join in some constitution, there are rules and stuff. from religion to college, scouts to kongsi gelap, you have the freedom not to get involve but once you're in, there are terms for you to oblige. it's a simple concept that's around us.

freedom IN islam means what ever rule there is, it's adaptable anywhere, anytime. for example the rule of covering your aurah. it does not stated the exact dress code to wear. for men, you can wear kain sarung, seluar or even space suit as long as it covers your aurah. it's subjective because it's for the whole world. different race, different culture, different time, different needs. but the guide is there. that's freedom in islam.

if Allah is simply god in arab, isn't it odd that islam is a religion with a god without a name? when it comes to translation from the quran, we must remember that it's poetic. on certain lines it's refer as god or tuhan, sometimes the name itself, Allah. think of the shahadah.

"Beside, the pronunciation is a bit different: (islamic) Allah (Aw-loh) and (christian) Allah (Al-lah)." - sepoi.
it's alif-lam-lam-ha. not alif-wau-lam alif-ha. basic. have you ever seen different spelling besides alif-lam-lam-ha in mosques in different country/culture/race?

"What's next, you have to wear tudung to learn Arabic? What, bahasa syurga? Please, syurga is multilingual." - zed adam
please do some homework first.
hint: mungkar and nakir Q&A!