COMMENT | I had never, ever heard the word "Allah" when attending my English-speaking church at a (then) small town called Seremban in the 1980s.
The first time I heard that word used for God was when I attended a Christian fellowship event linked to my university days in Kuala Lumpur. It was the first time I had seen Bahasa Malaysia (BM) hymns being used as part of the programme.
All this while, BM was just a language that I “had to” get a credit-level score in my SPM examination. Despite being educated for 13 years in the national language, I still felt little affinity for it (okay, except for Apo Nak Di Kato, a hit Malay song sung in the Negeri Sembilan dialect).
The 1980s was an era of sharp racial tensions. Unlike nowadays, there were few private colleges then and we were under immense pressure to squeeze into the “Chinese quota” for public universities or face an uncertain future. As students, the big topic was all about the unfairness of being “bullied” by a system where the leaders spoke "an alien language".
Although we were supposed to be “above” racial issues as Christians, it was not uncommon to be sucked into the more earthly spirit of the times. This included the famous 1982 “Seremban showdown”, the ultimate battle between then MCA president Lee San Choon and DAP chairperson Dr Chen Man Hin with the talk all about MCA “proving” it could contest a “Chinese seat” instead of “hiding under Umno’s skirt” in Malay-majority areas.
It was hard not to be coloured by racial or religious prejudices. Heck, in my conservative Protestant church, there was antipathy even towards other Christians such as Catholics (“Eeyer, they all worship Mary one”) and Charismatics (“Speaking in tongues is Satanic, you know?”).
So it was a refreshing jolt to have Malay Christian songs at that university fellowship...