Now Fighting ON the Name of God: Malaysia’s Ban on Christians using “Allah” for God! Why such conflict?


The debate over Malaysian Christians using the word “Allah” for God is in the court and on the streets of Malaysia. In the starting of this year, Malaysian court over ruled the 2007 ban on Malaysian Christians from using the word “Allah” when translating their Christian English Newspaper (or magazine) Herald to Malaysian languages and using “Allah” for God in the Bible Translations. After 3-4 days of overrule by the court, the Home Ministry of Malaysia appealed the court’s decision.  The public uproar and worst, the sad result of 9 Churches either being burned, or cocktail bombed is just pathetic.

So what is this issue of “Allah,” why some Malaysian Muslims are claiming that Allah is a “Muslim God”, and why Malaysian Christians want to use the word “Allah” for God??? It is necessary to understand the importance of the word “Allah,” its understanding in Islam; and the Malaysian history regarding Christians and Muslims and the way this debate has become a point of tension.

The Problem:

Back in 2007, the Malaysian Home Ministry banned Christians (& any non-muslim) from using the word “Allah.” In May 2008, Catholics in Malaysia decided to fight back this ban in the Malaysian Supreme Court. On December 31 , 2009, the Malaysian Supreme Court overruled the ban on the basis that Malaysia grants freedom of speech and religion and people may use any word they want to. On January 4, 2010, the Home Ministry of Malaysia appealed the Court and the debate over the usage of the word “Allah” has taken a toll of 9 Churches burned, or cocktailed bomb since then.

The court in its decision said that Home Ministry is in no legal position to ban the citizens from using any words. The Home Ministry in its responsive appeal to the court’s decision is standing on the ground that this is an emotional issue, and thus beyond the authority of the Supreme Court.  The Ministry has said that by the usage of the word “Allah” for God by Catholics, it would affect the peace in the society.

Why Do Malaysian Muslims Support the Ban?

Malaysia has gone through many racial and religious tensions, and the government has lately tried to unify the people by different methods.  The region has faced brutal clashes, riots and ethnic wars (including different religions) and the Malaysian State has taken intensive efforts to keep peace in the country because of its leadership role as an East Asian Economic hub and the role Malaysia plays as the leader of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

The concern of the government and the Malaysian Muslims is:

The government says Allah is an Islamic word and its use by others would mislead Muslims, implying it could be used to convert them to other religions.

Efforts by Christians to use Allah in Malay-language literature have been perceived by some Muslims “as a plot to convert Malay Muslims to Christianity,” Anas Zubedy, a popular Muslim blogger on social and political issues, wrote after the court verdict, adding his support of the ruling. The Ary News

Why do Malaysian Catholics want to use the word “Allah” :

According to the Times Magazine:

Lawyers for the church argued that the word Allah predated Islam and was commonly used by Copts, Jews and Christians to denote God in many parts of the world. They argued that Allah is an Arabic word for God and has been used for decades by the church in Malaysia and Indonesia. And they said that the Herald uses the word Allah for God to meet the needs of its Malay-speaking worshippers on the island of Borneo. “Some people have got the idea that we are out to convert [Muslims]. That’s not true,” the lawyers said on behalf of the Herald.

Catholicism Vs. the Muslim World:

For centruries Catholic Church in the West believed that Muslims believed in an idol Allah. They couldn’t comprehend that Islam is monothiestic and firmly believes in the Onness of God in the most simple and clear way.  They called Muslims- Muhammadans, thinking that Muslims believe in Prophet Muhammad as some divine personality.  Its just half of a century ago when there was a shift of this centuries old perspective from Western Christianity, but the remnant can still be found in some American Christian Evengelical movements in America.

Eastern Orthodox Vs. the Muslim World:

The Eastern Orthodox Church in the middle east, on the other hand, used the word “Allah” in their Arabic Bible and their writings. They had slight variations to differentiate their believe in Trinity.  Being Arabic speakers, there has never been a tension between Arab Christians and Arab Muslims on the words like Allah, Isa, Maryam etc. Because in Arabic, Arab Christians use mostly the same terminologies as of Muslims, because Muslims believe in all the major Biblical Prophets.

So when Arab Christian and Muslims never had this problem, why Malaysian Christians and Muslims are having it ??

Allah vs. God-Tuhan-Khuda-Dios

It is a known fact that every language has one or more terms that are used in reference to God and sometimes to lesser deities. This is not the case with Allah. Allah is the personal name of the One true God. Nothing else can be called Allah. The term has no plural or gender. This shows its uniqueness when compared with the word “god,” which can be made plural, as in “gods,” or made feminine, as in “goddess.” It is interesting to notice that Allah is the personal name of God in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and a sister language of Arabic. WAMY Series: on Islam # 9.

It is because of this that the word Allah has superceded for God in all the native languages of non-Arab Muslims.  Muslims use their native language’s word for God and the word “Allah” interchangeably.  Probably the most famous example of this is the South Asia (Persian and Urdu) parting phrase “Khuda Hafiz” which means “God be with you” which in Pakistan has evolved into “Allah Hafiz” which means literally “Allah be with you.”

The 99 attributes of Allah Subhanwatallah with Allah in the middle.

This issue is absurd because if the problem is conveying the message of the Bible to the local Malaysian Christians, who do not understand English but speak their local languages, then the word “Tuhan” should be used which means in Persian and Urdu “Khuda” and in English “God.” Just like South Asian Christians use Khuda in Urdu/Persian for God and not Allah, Malaysian Christians should use the actual translation of God in their language.  Just like “Dios” is used by Spanish speaking Christians, “Tuhan” should be used by Malaysian speaking Christians.

What is more problematic to me is, for centuries it was the Catholic Church that had an Anti-Islamic stance.  The Church innovated new terms, called Muslims “Muhammadans” and preached wrongly that Muslims worshipped an idol “Allah” and believed that Muhammad is the son of that idol.

It is not until the end of British Colonialism, that the Catholic Missionaries realized that all of these teachings were just wrong and that Muslims don’t believe in any idols.  British Colonialism ended in 1947 in South Asia! and they were of these opinion when they left.  So if the problem is of translation, they the English Bibles should be translated into the local language with Tucan instead of Allah, because in English Bibles it says God, not Allah!

Peaceful Solution:

This is a local Malaysian matter, and Malaysian Islamic Scholars should take a step ahead and invite Malaysian Catholic Leaders and should make the problem clear. On ther other hand, Malaysian Catholic Leaders should understand the difference and should resolve the issue peacefully without pushing it any further.  The more this issue will be played in the hands of politicians and media, the ugly it is going to get, which might lead to a useless violence between Malaysian Christians and Muslims.  This issue needs to be resolved in private room on a table.  9 Churches vandalised or Cocktailed bomb is just sad, and it shows that the ignorant and extremist elements will be given opportunity on both sides.

I end with the words from the contract of Prophet Muhammad, peace & blessings be upon him, which was agreed upon by the Christians of Najran (today’s Yemen):

“Najran has the protection of God and the pledges of Muhammad, the Prophet, to protect their (the Christians’) lives, faith, land, property, those who are absent and those who are present, and their clan and allies. They need not change anything of their past customs. No right of theirs or their religion shall be altered. No church leader, monk or church guard shall be removed from his position.”

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16 Comments

Filed under Islam, Muslim World, Umer Sultan

16 responses to “Now Fighting ON the Name of God: Malaysia’s Ban on Christians using “Allah” for God! Why such conflict?

  1. Sehrish Khan saddozai

    Intersting! i never believe they will know argue on a point like this..?! like seriously?! God(Allah)! bless the world. We humans have come down to this point that we fighting over words..!

  2. steve

    I don’t know what the difference is. I mean one would think it would be okay for Christians to refer to God as Allah in country that’s probaly 60% or more Muslim. I’m not sure what the offense is.

    • Well the issue is conveying the message of Bible to the local christians who can’t speak English. So the translation of God into their language is Tuhan, not Allah. The entire Catholic Church in South Asia uses Khuda instead of Allah, because that is the proper translation in Urdu and Persian languages for God.

      Its not something on which protests and craziness needs to happen. They should resolve this issue on the table. Muslims use Allah in all the languages for God becuase that is the personal name of God, just like Yahweh in Hebrew. In Arabic actually Ilah means god but Muslims use Allah instead of ilah, because of the definition that Allah is the personal name of God (Ilah/Tuhan/Khuda/Dios). And unlike Jews, Muslims are suppose to use Allah.

      • steve

        I certainly agree with you. It isn’t anything to get upset about … I mean it seems there are much more important issues to work on.

  3. D.I.D.

    It is sad that religious difference has come down to litteraly a war over language in even one part of the world. Like you said, hopefully this can be resolved peacefully.

    I might be a Christian (albeit one in a spiritual crisis), but even I personally prefer the word “Allah” as the name of the Most High, as it has no plural or gender, and so more properly conveys Allah’s holiness and supercesion of the petty divisions of singularity or gender.

  4. Moe

    Umer: It sounds to me like there are ‘troublemakers’ behind the scenes. These sorts of fights usually begin with some group with a narrow agenda looking for a fight. And then it spreads.

    I was raised Christian and I didn’t learn that Islam is also an Abrahamic religion, like Judaism and Christianity, until well into my adult years. And no doubt there continues to be a lot of ignorance out there about each other. And ignorance is the common enemy.

    Is there any Islamist radicalism in Maylasia?

    • Islamist Movements are almost in each Muslim Country. Most of them are moderate (regardless of wht the media pundits portrays). However, since radicalism is a rising issue that Muslim world is facing (which is on its own) and is not at all monolithic, there are certainly radical groups in Malaysia.
      The problem in Malaysia is that it is a very multi ethinic state. Malays, Indian, Chinese, and many other Asian ethnicities are there. Along with racial tensions within the nation, it sometimes burst through religious sentiments (not that it only happens in malaysia). South East Asian Countries, are very multi ethinic and there is always something that starts the racial conflicts. In Indonesia or may be in Thailand I think, Muslims were massacred in numbers by Christians, and then Buddhist had conflicts with Muslims and these conflicts overlap (& most certainly no one group can be taged “culprits”).

      So I would certainly agree that there might be a trouble group in there that might have started this issue, and has taken a nation into another potential racial riots, which Malaysia is very fearful of because it would hurt Malaysia’s message to the Muslim World and its role as a Leader of the Organization of Islamic Conference. Malaysia is considered to be one of the most Self Sustained, free from Western influence (US mainly!), a technologically advance Muslim State.

      I would however, not infuse Islamist with radicalism, because Islamist in simple want rule of Islam in their communities (which Muslims claim to abide by when they declare to be muslims, called Sharia, and it differs in a Muslim state, and a Non-State). It is also a response to widespread corruption in the State (mostly secular), it appeals to the self sustainance, and free from any foreign influence (majorly US), a sentiment that is like very widespread across the World, espacially in the Muslim World. Other way to say them is Nationalists!! [this is not what Western Experts (politicans & most intellctuals) describe it as, & for tht they have their own agenda!]

      • Moe

        Thanks for clearing up the use of the word Islamist. The way you explain it, I think nationalism is indeed the best definition.

        And just from reading the news, I can see how very differently various countries live under thier interpretretation of Sharia law.

      • D.I.D.

        This post was a while back, but after reading the comments here, I must admit that I had never thought of Islamism as a sort or subset of nationalism. I had previously only thought of it is a religious movement with nationalistic qualities, yet when I look at it closer a broad definition of nationalism seems to fit it quite well…

      • Yes they are more like Nationalists, but we can’t really call them Nationalists, because even though Islamist have their mission only within their country’s boundaries, but they act and behave like Nationalist. They don’t go along with ethnic nationalist groups and other nationalist groups.

  5. Mr. Opinionated

    [The government says Allah is an Islamic word and its use by others would mislead Muslims, implying it could be used to convert them to other religions.

    Efforts by Christians to use Allah in Malay-language literature have been perceived by some Muslims “as a plot to convert Malay Muslims to Christianity,” Anas Zubedy, a popular Muslim blogger on social and political issues, wrote after the court verdict, adding his support of the ruling. ]

    If this is what they have noticed, I think they have the right to do that ruling. The issue is bigger that being a linguistic conflict. They have the right to conserve their religion. There is a misleading as they mentioned. And this is the first thing came to my mind when i heard about this conflict even before reading it. There is something that we don’t really see.

  6. This is absurd. Allah is not the Muslim God. According to Islam, Allah is the Creator of every living and non-living entity. I hate when Muslims try to claim things as “theirs”. The Quran isn’t the Muslims’ book, and the word “Allah” isn’t the word for the Muslim God. The Quran is for everyone send by the God of everyone and everything. Muslims certainly do not have a patent on Quran nor on the word “Allah”. As a believing Muslim, I will say that these so-called Muslims who are harming Christians over using the word “Allah” are rotten people, because they are harming those who are saying “Allah” in worship. Shame on them.

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