Malaysiakini Letter

DBP and the Malay translation of the Bible

Jason Loh Seong Wei  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | The proposal by the lawyer representing Mais, Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, for the Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka (DBP) to control the translation process of the Bible into the national language and the support expressed by the Concerned Lawyers for Justice (CLJ) is wholly and utterly unconstitutional and, by extension, would constitute a legal infringement of fundamental liberties.

As such a breach of core human rights that are absolutely non-negotiable and under the circumstances, cannot and should not be subject to any form of compromise.

The proposal would imply a rewriting and revising of Articles 3 & 11 of the Federal Constitution and the suppression of the meaning “the right to manage its own religious affair” (under Article 11(3)), thus in effect subverting the Federal Constitution.

There is no higher authority beyond or behind the Federal Constitution – for by its very nature as written and codified, it is the one and only sacrosanct and highest legal document of the land – without peer or parallel or in implicit or tacit partnership with another. In other words, there is no room for constitutional syirik or ‘polytheism’.

In addition, the proposal would also serve to weaken and undermine the sanctity of Islam and of the integrity of the Malay rulers as the guardians and patrons in their respective states.

As it is, the proposal is grounded in insecurity and paranoia as regards the use of the term ‘Allah’ in the Bible by Christians when it is the common usage of the monotheistic people of the book that not only pre-dates the birth of the prophet Muhammad but also explicitly recognised in the Quran itself.

That is to say, the proposal would be tantamount to the ‘rewriting’ of the Quran’s teachings concerning the people of the book and thus constitute an act analogous to sacrilege.

It is clear that the disagreement the Quran has with Christians was never centred upon the use of the term, ‘Allah’ itself (i.e. the form or nomenclature) but ever upon the substantive teaching concerning the divinity of Isa (Jesus).

Furthermore, the proposal does nothing to promote and advance the benevolent role of Islam as the established religion of the state (and state) in forging and fostering good-will and unity amongst all the different religious adherents.

Instead, the proposal only exacerbates the susceptibility or vulnerability of the already politicised nature of Islam to political mileage and exploitation by the establishment (official and rogue) for whom religion is a key plank of their ideology and struggle.

The proposal, if implemented, would represent the entrenchment of ethnic and religious supremacy which in turn compete with and rival as well as cast aspersion on and usurp the role of the constitutional monarchy and of the Malay rulers as the preeminent institutional symbolisms of the Malay and Muslim character of the Constitution and of the land.

It has to be stressed also that the proposal represents a defiance of the intention and will of the Conference of Malay Rulers as epitomised by the recent statement made by Selangor sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah (photo) expressing concern about the use of religion for political purposes.

Such would be the logical and pathological development and outcome and consequences of the promotion and advancement of the ethnic and religious supremacy agenda embedded in the proposal. And what more, the proposal actually represents a form of oppression and semi persecution of Malay-speaking Christians, many of whom come from disadvantaged and marginalised backgrounds.

The Christian teaching on the Trinity is indeed different from Islam. The use of the term, ‘Allah,’ as it is, was never intended to bridge or blur the basic differences (for evangelistic or ecumenical purposes) but to repeat again due to historical reasons and factors which produces the cultural practices that not only pre-exists in Malaysia but also other Malay-speaking parts of the world.

And yet for Christians, there is only one and only Allah but three personal names. Allah or God is pre-eminently the Father who is the sole source and origin of the Son (by way of generation) and the Spirit (by way of procession). The Son and Spirit, therefore, derive their Persons and God-ness and therefore the (common) title (‘surname’ or ‘family’ name) ‘God’ from the Father alone: Hence the Unity in Trinity.

There is, therefore, neither compositeness nor opposition – both of which points to extrinsic relations – between one and three since these are not mathematical numbers but totally without analogy.

The analogy lies in the distinction between person and nature. Just as there is only one human nature but many persons, likewise there is only one divine nature but three divine Persons (but the analogy is as far as it goes).

It has to be stressed that especially for Eastern Christianity as epitomised by the 4th century Cappadocian fathers, the divine nature (essence) is incomprehensible and unknowable. The oneness of God and therefore ‘oneness’ of the essence is inferred ever so indirectly by the common energies and operations of the three persons. Therefore, only the persons are revealed.

In conclusion, let not the position of the powers-that-be harden their position for it will be detrimental to national unity and to the peace, stability and progress that our beloved country enjoys.

The principle and concept of wassatiyah must not only be a slogan but a concrete reality to be defended and upheld by all Malaysians alike. Towards that end, both BN and Pakatan Harapan at both national and state levels must condemn the proposal as un-Malaysian, un-Malay and un-Islamic.

Resolve with the political will to overcome this artificially-manufactured problematic on the usage of the term, ‘Allah’ by Malay-speaking Christians by reverting to the situation of the pre-existing institutional framework and constraints as within the boundaries of the Federal Constitution – whereby the state does not interfere and intervene in religious matters involving non-Muslims (and where non-Muslims adhere to the constitutional provision and national policy of non-proselytisation of Muslims)

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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