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Allah for Christians in Malaysia

October 26, 2013

Yesterday, The Malaysian Insider continued to publish strong and public responses to news earlier this month that a “Malaysian appeals court has upheld a government ban against the use of the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God in non-Muslim faiths, overruling claims by Christians in this Muslim-majority nation that the restriction violates their religious rights.”

For instance, Bob Teoh writing in English to convey a conversation he had had with a Christian pastor in Kuching – presumably in English – talks in terms of war. The pastor and even Teoh himself are alluding to passages from the Hebrew Bible, in English translation. The Christian leader in Kuching paraphrases, saying:

Brother, the battle belongs to the Lord. The enemies are all confused now.

Although Teoh doesn’t explain to his English readers of The Malaysian Insider, the pastor is making a clear reference to 2 Chronicles 20:15 –

Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

I’ve quoted the Bible directly from the New Living Translation in English. I’ve done that here because it’s what Teoh does in his post, “Allah, lost in translation.” Toeh goes on to elaborate his points about biblical “war” by quoting the following way:

The world may rely on Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” but the Bible actually has its own principles for going to war.

One of it is found in the fifth book by Moses (Musa in the Quran) in the Christian Old Testament or the Jewish Bible:

Regulations concerning War

“When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The Lord your God, who brought you out of (captivity from) the land of Egypt, is with you! For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and he will give you victory!” (Deuteronomy 20:1,4 New Living Translation).

What Teoh does not do is to use Malaysian. He, of course, could have quoted from a translation of the Bible into Malay or into Indonesian which Malay readers understand. And then readers of The Malaysian Insider would read of Allah there. For example, from a Christian Bible (Old Testament) online, one may read the above two passages as follows:

2Tawarikh 20

15. dan berseru: “Camkanlah, hai seluruh Yehuda dan penduduk Yerusalem dan tuanku raja Yosafat, beginilah firman TUHAN kepadamu: Janganlah kamu takut dan terkejut karena laskar yang besar ini, sebab bukan kamu yang akan berperang melainkan Allah.


Ulangan 20

1. “Apabila engkau keluar berperang melawan musuhmu, dan engkau melihat kuda dan kereta, yakni tentara yang lebih banyak dari padamu, maka janganlah engkau takut kepadanya, sebab TUHAN, Allahmu, yang telah menuntun engkau keluar dari tanah Mesir, menyertai engkau.

4. sebab TUHAN, Allahmu, Dialah yang berjalan menyertai kamu untuk berperang bagimu melawan musuhmu, dengan maksud memberikan kemenangan kepadamu.

Most Malaysian readers of English would be well aware of how their Bibles in Malay already include Allah as one of the references to God in the Malaysian language.

The allusion to God is not restricted to the Christian Old Testament but is also found in the New Testament. Thus, another writer for The Malaysian Insider, Rama Ramanathan, quotes the Lord’s Prayer, in English first and then in Malay:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we also have forgiven those who sinned against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.”

“Ya Bapa kami yang di syurga, Engkaulah Allah yang Esa, semoga Engkau disembah dan dihormati. Engkaulah Raja kami. Semoga Engkau memerintah di bumi, dan seperti di syurga, kehendakMu ditaati. Berilah kami makanan yang kami perlukan pada hari ini. Ampunkanlah kesalahan kami, seperti kami mengampuni orang yang bersalah terhadap kami. Janganlah biarkan kami kehilangan iman ketika dicubai, tetapi selamatkanlah kami daripada kuasa si Jahat. Engkaulah Raja yang berkuasa dan mulia untuk selama-lamanya. Amin.”

Also quoted are a number of allusions to Allah in Christian liturgies in Malaysia. Ramanathan’s post is entitled “Allah judgment: What the Special Branch saw on Sunday,” and you can read it here.

BLT readers might be interested, likewise, in seeing the tradition of using Allah in Indonesia by the Christian minority, whose language is very very similar to Malaysian. Here’s a site that compares various translations of numerous popular passages:

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