I refer to the letter High Time to learn about other religions by Animah Ferrar.
There seems to be some irrational and ambiguous discussion in her letter. She confidently admits that 'we will find many shared principals and values' by learning other religions. At the same time, she cautions writers and translators 'to avoid using terminology exclusive to a particular religion' in order 'to avoid confusion and suspicion.'
Also, she quotes the classic example of the term 'Allah' for Christianity as an attempt 'to mislead Muslims to believe that the book is about Islam.'
How many times should the Malaysian people repeatedly discuss this issue to reach a consensus and mutual understanding? According to my own research, it was first discussed in the middle of 1980s among some Christian leaders in Malaysia, since the state laws began restricting the use of the term for the non-Islamic religions without consulting with non-Muslim authorities in the country.
For the Christian side, it was significant because this affected especially the work of the translation of the Bible into the national language and Malay-related languages such as Iban.
Before promoting learning about other religions, Animah must understand this: if she truly recognises that there are many shared principals and values among religions, then she must admit it quite natural for the monotheistic religions to share the term itself among them. It is not a misleading attempt but a logical and rational conclusion.
If Muslims may have any confusion and suspicion, it is not a fault of the translators. Rather, it is the responsibility of Muslims not to have such negative impressions of other non-Islamic writings. If one cannot discern the simple difference between the Islamic books and non-Islamic books by the content, then it will be almost in vain for him or her to learn about other religions except for Islam, because he or she will be more confused after knowing about them.
When I visited Malaysia last November, a Muslim scholar told me that Muslims and non-Muslims are not equal at a seminar in Kuala Lumpur. Also, scholars of Islam in Japan officially recognise that Islam is the religion that rectifies the deficits and errors of Judaism and Christianity. I have often heard that Muslims from various countries - who were invited by Japanese universities - claim in public that Islam is the final and complete religion, although most of the audience were non-Muslims.
I wonder what is Ferrar's intention to support the idea about learning about other religions? If she really expects that people will respect others by doing so, then she must allow the Christian translators to use the term in their religious books. It is the right of Christians to share the term with Muslims. From the Christian point of view, Islam absorbed some of the basic elements from Judaism and Christianity respectfully.
The writer is researcher, Centre for Interdisciplinary Study of Monotheistic Religions, Doshisha University, Kyoto. She was a lecturer at the Ambang Ashuhan Jepun, Universiti Malaya between April 1990 and April 1993, assigned by the Japan Foundation and author of the paper 'Towards mutual understanding or religious intolerance? Impacts and implications of the recent Iban Bible issue in Malaysia' in 2003 .