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By Ng Kam Weng

Constructive dialogue way to resolving 'Allah' issue

Proposition 1: We respect the right of PAS to spell out clearly its theological position on Allah.

Proposition 2: We respect the right of people of different faiths to interpret their holy books and profess their faith in their mother tongues.

Proposition 3: We must go beyond polemics in addressing the Allah controversy.

Proposition 4: We invite Muslim leaders to engage in constructive dialogue with Christian leaders to resolve the Allah controversy

The official statement released by Pas Ulamak Syura Council (USC) on 13/1/2013 has caused confusion and concern.

The statement affirms that: Kalimah Allah adalah kalimah khusus yang Allah menamakan diri-Nya Allah.

Kalimah itu tidak boleh diterjemahkan ke dalam mana-mana bahasa dunia kerana tidak menepati kehendak sebenar dari kalimah ini.

Demikian juga tidak boleh kalimah asing hendak diterjemahkan kepada kalimah Allah.

Oleh kerana itu, menterjemah kalimah God atau Lord dari mana-mana kitab agama bukan Islam kepada perkataan Allah tidak dibolehkan kerana ianya salah dari segi makna dan salah guna, tidak menepati kehendak sebenar yang boleh membawa kekeliruan yang nyata. Oleh kerana itu ia hendaklah dicegah.

Translation: "The holy word Allah is used specifically by Allah himself to name himself "Allah".

The word cannot be translated into any language in the world because it does not meet the real requirements of this word.

Similarly other foreign words cannot be translated into "Allah".

Therefore, translating "God" or "Lord" from any non-Muslim religious books into the word Allah is forbidden because it is wrong in terms of meaning and use, does not fulfil the actual requirement and can bring confusion. Therefore it must be prevented."

It is noted that Abdul Hadi Awang, the President of PAS earlier stated  that Islam cannot prohibit non-Muslims from using the word Allah ('Penggunaan Kalima Allah' dated 7 Jan 2010).

He cited a few Quranic verses (Surah Luqman 31: 25-26; Surah Az-Zumar 39: 38; Surah Az-Zukhruf 43: 9, 87) to demonstrate that even the Quran assumes that both Muslims and non-Muslims use the same reference to Allâh even though there was theological disagreement:

"Perkataan Allah disebut oleh orang Arab atau pengguna bahasa Arab yang menganut berbagai agama, sama ada penganut Yahudi, Kristian dan penyembah berhala sejak dahulu kala. Al-Quran menyebut secara jelas bahawa penganut agama-agama itu menyebut dan menulis perkataan Allah."

He concluded, "Kesimpulannya, kita tidak boleh melarang mereka menggunakan perkataan Allah di kalangan mereka sendiri, dalam ibadat mereka dan amalan mereka, walau pun salah maksud dan maknanya yang asal mengikut bahasa kita" (In conclusion, we cannot prohibit their use of the word God among themselves, in their worship and practices, even though the original purpose and meaning is wrong according to our language).

Hadi Awang added, "Demikianlah keterbukaan Islam terhadap kebebasan beragama dengan batas sempadan yang tidak menegangkan hubungan dalam masyarakat berbagai agama" (Such is the openness of Islam towards religious freedom with boundaries that do not strain relations in a multi-religious society).

It seems there are inconsistencies between the USC and president Hadi Awang. Clarification from PAS should be forthcoming.

PAS rights respected 

Meanwhile, should the Malaysian church respond to the present confusion?

1) We respect the right of PAS to spell out clearly its theological position on Allah.

The USC has spelled out clearly its position and this deserves respect.

Still, our response is that with all due respect, we do not agree with its theological interpretation of the word Allah. PAS is entitled to hold the view that only Muslims have understood and used the word Allah accurately.

But by the same token Christians are also entitled to hold to their view of God and to use the word Allah accordingly.

The issue is not that Christians and Muslims hold different views of God.

Religious difference has existed since the dawn of mankind. The issue is whether we are prepared to respect the right of people of other faiths to uphold their own religious conception of God.

2) We respect the right of people of different faiths to interpret their holy books and profess their faith in their mother tongues.

Muslims have every right to interpret the Quran and profess their faith in any mother tongue, whether it is Arabic, English or Malay.

Likewise, Malay-speaking Christians should have the same right to interpret the Malay Bible (Alkitab) and profess their faith in Malay in their mother tongue.

Muslims will not accept and rightly feel offended if Christians were to tell them how they should profess their faith.

Conversely, Christians have the right to reject any Muslim telling them how they may profess their Christian faith.

Freedom of religion is an inalienable and fundamental right. Freedom of religion is authentic precisely because people are entitled to uphold different belief systems.

Muslims have every right to believe that the word Allah is specific to the God of Islam and that people of other faiths are not using the word Allah rightly if judged according to criteria internal to Islam.

By the same token Malay speaking Christians have the same right to use the word Allah in the Malay Bible (Alkitab) even though their idea of God may not be consistent with Islam.

Muslims have the right to disagree and even critique those who hold to different ideas of God or Allah.

For example, PAS statement explicitly critiques and rejects the Christian concept of God as unsuitable when used with the word Allah.

However, Christians take no offence at the critique as intellectual integrity entails a critical reception of truth claims.

However, religious differences must be addressed with sensitivity.

There should be no misrepresentation of the beliefs of another religion.

It is desirable that leaders from both the Christian and Islamic community meet together and exercise their statesmanship to resolve amicably their difference through fair and frank discussion.

3) We must go beyond polemics in addressing the Allah controversy

Both Christianity and Islam are rich religious traditions that require nuanced and careful understanding.

This being the case, it would be inappropriate to rely on public pronouncements, fatwas and press statements to help believers from both sides to arrive at mutual understanding.

Indeed, the brevity and generality of such pronouncements means they are easily misunderstood.

Regrettably some politicians have exploited the controversy for their political agenda.

4) We invite Muslim leaders to engage in constructive dialogue with Christian leaders to resolve the Allah controversy

It is imperative for religious leaders from both the Christian and Muslim community (regardless of whether they represent Umno or PAS) to engage in constructive dialogue to resolve the Allah controversy in a spirit that is consistent with the ethical and spiritual aspiration of their respective religious traditions.

Leaders from the Malaysian church would readily welcome dialogue with Muslim leaders.

Hopefully, such dialogue would restore good will and harmony to our beloved nation.

Sura 29:46 al-ankabut (The Spider)

And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation) unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): But say "We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam)." (Yusuf Ali translation).

1Peter 3: 15-16

Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.