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The 'Allah' Issue

Wed 09 Jun 2021 || 23:34:PM



(Nama Allah yang dipermasalahkan)

Dr. Paul Tan Chee Ing, S.J., S.T.L., Ph.D, D.D.,

Bishop Emeritus of Malacca-Johor


Polemics is not the aim of this short write-up. Disparaging other faiths and their believers is against basic human freedom of choice of their religious beliefs. This is the basic Catholic teaching to which I hold dearly. Sarcasm is not in my vocabulary. So, what is it?


It is that telling the Truth will set me free  for Jesus said “… you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John (RSV: 8:32).  No one can take away from me that which resides in the depth of my being a human.


Many of our Catholics are confused with this issue of Allah because so many things are being said by people who pretend to know ..?... Unfortunately, many Catholics are also ignorant of the facts and truths propounded by the Catholic Church teaching.


These are the reasons, then, why I embark on this short article: to help dispel all doubts about facts, truths and rationality in the use of the word Allah; it is a non-issue really. It becomes an issue when it is being politicized which is the case in Malaysia.


I repeat, this article is not intended to be polemical.


First, allow me to make a few introductory remarks. (1) I do not pretend to speak for every Christian, less still for everyone. I speak for many people who do not profess the Islamic faith in Malaysia and PERHAPS for a number of Muslims in and out of Malaysia. (2) I do not claim that Christians MUST USE the word Allah. It is up to everyone in accordance to his or her conviction. (3) I only claim for every human being the RIGHT and FREEDOM to use any word found in any language. Upholding this principle, I personally claim that I have the right to use the word Allah.


In this present Malaysian context, it must be said explicitly: it is not that Christians want to use the word to confuse Muslims; rather, it is taking a stand that no one has the power to take away the God-given right to a human person the freedom to use whatever word he or she wants to use provided the rights of others are not being violated. If certain Muslims in Malaysia feel that their rights are being violated, they have only to look at history to know that for centuries, Christians in Islamic countries, especially in the Middle Eastern countries where Islam was born, have been using the word Allah without stirring up any storm in the tea cup.


To say that using the word Allah may confuse the Muslims in Malaysia is tantamount to casting aspersion on them because it is accusing them of having a faith so weak and a mind so dull that, unlike their Muslim brothers and sisters in other countries, they are easily shaken because people of other faiths use the word Allah for God. Sikhs, Bahai’s, Maltese, Mizrahi Jews, etc., use Allah. More of this later.


However, having said this, it is only truthful to say also the following.  There are a few ignorant and radical adherents of all religions who feel compelled to make others like them if they want to go to heaven. For Christians, there are a handful of fanatic evangelicals, especially the foreign ones, who feel obliged to proclaim Christ just as a few radical Muslims feel that they must wipe out of the face of the earth the “infedels”. These few do not speak for or cover all the followers of their religions. Unfortunately, the majority has allowed these few bigots to control the media and give a pitiable picture of their noble religions. The fault lies in the majority and not in the few; If a few persons can make the great majority hostage, it is the majority-hostage who allow themselves being made captives and, by not speaking up against these few fanatics for acting stupidly, they allow the world to think that they too are part of this ignorant and silly zealots.


Our Government who is supposed to represent the majority of the Malaysian people has done nothing to stop these extremists from stirring up misconceptions, tensions and hatred.


Instead, it is the Government that has cooperated in the 2009 seizure of more than 20,000 Bibles in which the word Allah is used for God. Christians, particularly the Catholic weekly HERALD, have been forbidden from using the word Allah.  The culprits helping JAIS with police force raided and took away 300 Bibles from the Bible Society of Malaysia. The Malaysian Government allowed JAIS, a government religious affairs’ department, to preach in the mosques saying without any substantial proof that Islam is “under threat” from Christians and Jews who are “enemies of Islam.”  Worse of all, no action was taken against PERKASA for calling on Muslims to burn Bibles.


All these actions (or non-actions) of the representatives of the majority of the people of Malaysia have encouraged and condoned the sowing of hatred among the people by the extremists. Although a few rational and intelligent Muslims and people of faiths other than Islam have spoken out clearly against such obnoxious behavior of radicals, the majority has kept silent; thus joining the Government in tolerating these malicious incitements to violence.


In the same setting, I would like to emphasize that Malaysia is a constitutional or parliamentary democracy and not a theocratic state, inconcrete, an Islamic state; say what you want, the fact remains that at the inception of the Federal Constitution, our founding fathers did not want Malaysia to be an Islamic State.  The greatest of our founding fathers, Tunku Abdul Rahman  -- his statement on the matter is the best testimony. The sultan of Selangor and the sultan of Pahang have banned non-Muslims from using the term Allah. Our Federal Constitutions does not give any sultan the power to dictate to people of other faiths what religious rules that they must follow. People of faiths other than those of Islam have their own religious heads who govern and tell them what is right or wrong in accordance with their religious beliefs.


Facts and reasoning 

My claim for human right for everyone on the use of any word from any language, in this case the word Allah, is based on the following facts and reasoning.


1)    Allah is a pre-Islamic word used by Arabs, e.g., the Arabs in Mecca, before Prophet Muhammad was born. For these Arabs, the word, ALLAH, means “creator deity.”[1] It is therefore not an Islamic creation and Muslims have no exclusive claim to it although they may and have injected into it specific nuances. If the Holy Prophet Muhammad wanted Muslims to use a specific word with special connotations that others did not have, he would have created a new word and not use a word already used by the Arabs and Arab Christians before his time.

An ex-US Ambassador  to Malaysia, from 1995 to 1998 said in his article, “ Indeed, archeologists have found an Arabic-language Christian Bible  (the Mt. Senai Arabic Codex 151) that is nearly 1,300 years old, in which God is called “Allah”[2] This implies that for many hundred of years, Christians were using the word Allah for God before Islam was born

2)      Besides, Christians, Mizrahi Jews, Bahais, Maltese, Sikhs, and others use the same word. The Sikhs have publicly proclaimed that their Holy Scriptures use the word Allah 37 times.[3] The Sikhs ask the rhetorical question: Are they also forbidden to read and pray their Scriptures?


This word Allah and its cognates are found in many languages. Just to give a few examples:

In Urdu/Persian/Dari/Uyshur, it is the same word, Allah; in Bengali, and in Bosnian languages, it is also Allah; in Czech and Slovak languages, it is Allach, etc., [4]


In the Holy Koran, it is written clearly that Jews, Christians, Sabeans  worship Allah. Allow me to quote only one surah – surah 2:62:  “Those who believe in the Quran and those who follow the Jewish Scriptures and the Christians and the Sabeans… who so believe in God (ALLAH) and the last day…[5]

3)    In our own country, in Sabah and Sarawak, our bumiputra, e.g., Kadazans, Ibans, Bidahyus, Melanaus,  etc., have been using the word Allah in their languages since the inception of their local languages.


4)    No country in the world, including the Arab countries in the Middle East and, closer to Malaysia, Indonesia, forbids non-Muslims from using the word Allah. Christians in these countries have been using it for centuries. At present, there are about 10 to 12 million Arab Christians using the word Allah for God.


If some Malaysian Muslims claim that non-Muslims cannot use the word because the Malaysian Muslims’ understanding of Allah is unique to them, then logically they are saying that the Arab Muslims also have a different understanding of Allah from their understanding because the Arab Muslims use the word Allah for God. Does this mean that our Malay-Muslims are worshipping a different Allah from that of their counterpart Arab Muslims? Indeed, have our Malay-Muslims changed the meaning of Allah as the Prophet Muhammad (an Arab, peace be on Him) gave to his Arab disciples?


Consequently, We would be a laughing stock of enlightened people in the world if we were to continue to make criminals of people of faiths other than those of Islam who use the word Allah.


5)   Below is taken from CFM declaration prepared by Ms. Dr. Patricia Martinez:[6]

      5a)   in 1514: Written in Malay was “The Kitab slalat as-sawai  or Christian catechism.

      5b)   in 1545 was published The Kitab sdalat as-sawai;

      5c)    in 1631 was the printed version of the Gospel of Matthew in Malay by a.C. Ruyi

      5d)    in 1631 Printed in Rome the Malay-Latin Dictionary (Dictionarium Msalaicum-Latinum and Latinum-Malaicum)

      5e)     in 1662 was tramslated the “Book of Genesis by D. Brouwerius”

      5f)     1731-1733 the complete Malay Bible, with Allah as God was translated by M. Leijdecker.

      5g)    in 1733 the Book of Genesis was translated by M. Leijdecker

      5h)     in 1879, The Bible was translated into Malay by H.C. Klinkert.

      5i)     In 1938, The New Testament of the Bible was translated into Malay by W.A. Bode.


6)    I have in my possession a Dutch Gospel according to St. Matthew or in Malay Language  INJIL MATIUS in the book  “NUEVVE TESTAMENT.”  It was translated into the Malay language in 1629. In it, the word for God is translated as Allah. There are other Christian literatures translated into the Malay language after 1629 using Allah for God.


7)     Permit me to quote wholesale Malaysiakini on what lawyer Annou Xavier said[7]


“ The May 4, 2009 order by the court, according to Annou, stated the applicant (Jilil Ireland Lawrence Bill, a Melanau Christian) be given a declaration that it is within her legitimate expectation to use the word Allah and have ownership, to obtain, use and import such materials including printing items with the word for her own practice. 

He further brought MAIS’s attention to a circular, dated April 11, 2011 andorsed by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak himself, which stated that the government has agreed that non-Muslims may import, buy, print, distribute, read and use the Bible in any language, including Bahasa Malaysia.”


Further to this, the High Court has ruled on 31 December 2009 that the ban on the use of the word “Allah” by people of faiths other than those of Islam is ILLEGAL


The Government (UMNO) went to the Court of Appeal to overturn the decision of the High Court that the ban of the use of the word ALLAH to non-Muslims is Illegal. The Court of Appeals with three Malay-Muslim judges, of course, overturned the High Court ruling. There was such a hue and raw not only in Malaysia but also all over the world, even from Arab countries where the great majority of the population profess Islam.


Mr. Farish A Noor wote about Munshi Abdullah Abdul Kadir, “who is universally regarded as one of the forefathers of modern Malay Literature,” used the word Allah for God in his translation of the New Testament, “the Kitab Injil al-kudus daripada Tuhan Esa a;-Masihi.” Munshi Abdullah Abdul Kadir was never secretly converted. He remained a faithful Muslim to the end.


With regard to foreign countries’ comments, allow me just to quote just a few:


a)      Mustafa Akyol, columnist of THE TURKISH DAILY, Hurriyet Daily News, wrote: “…. those who advance such ideas of a ‘Muslim copyright for “Allah” do nothing but reveal the burning lack of intellectual self-confidence among Muslims.”

b)        The editorial in the United Arab Emirates, THE NATIONAL, writes on 14 October 2013: “ The word ‘Allah’ is never exclusive to Islam – Indeed, both Christians and Jews used the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God even before the coming of Islam.”  

c)       Mufti Abdul Aziz al Sheikh, in his commentary in the DAILY TIMES (English paper) in Pakistan wrote: “The problem with practicing Muslims today is that they treat Islam like an insecure entity that needs care, due attention and a special shelter lest it gets smeared  and nullified. The recent example of this attitude is displayed in Malaysia where the government has gone so far as proscribing Christians from using Allah as their God’s name.”

d)      Endy M Bayuni, senior editor of JAKARTA POST (Indonesia) wrote on 16 October, 2013: “ no one who believes in the power of one supreme God can really claim exclusivity. There is no such thing as the God for Catholics, just as there is no such thing as the God or Allah for the Muslims ….Those who claim exclutivity to God undermine their own faith, and inadvertently or not, preach polytheism.”

e)       Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia Chronicle wrote on 19 Oct. 2013: “The position of Sheikh Qaradwadi chairperson of the World Islamic or Ulama Council is that Allah is God for Muslims, Christians, Arabs, Persians….”

f)       Nesrine Malik, Sudanese born writer, wrote in, on Oct. 2013: “…the ban is less about religion than about putting non-Malay minorities in their place, subordinating their status to that of Muslims, the majority population… (it is) … a cynical, politically motivated ban.”  


I will end with the final quotation that says a lot of what is the real aim of the silly judgement of Court of Appeal in October 2013 in Malaysia.

g)       Weleed Aly columnist in the  Age (Australia) writes,  “ This is indeed about an old guard of Malays (who are officially always Muslims) confronting the fact the privileged position they’ve held for the first 50 years of Malaysian independence simply can’t hold for the next 50. Now they’re lashing out, as if trying to resist the death throes of their own supremacy.”


The whole world seems to be able to see through the “wayang kulit”  played out in this Allah issue in Malaysia. The judgement of the Court of Appeal in October 2013 on the Allah issue of the paper HERALD is politically motivated, irrational and bogus. Malaysia has become, indeed, the laughing stock of the world.


8)       There is ONLY ONE GOD, call him/her/it whatever you want, Brahman, God, Almighty, Absolute, Allah, Shang Ti or Tian or Tian Zhu. The One Creator does not change just because we humans change the word or the meaning of the word.  He is the One Creator of all creatures.


9)       Hence, to forbid people who profess faiths other than those who profess Islam is to say that Allah is not the creator of non-Muslims. This would indeed be a blasphemy to Allah. A greater insult would be to confine Allah to Muslims and consequently logically to admit that there are other gods, true or false, besides Him/Her/It. This would be against the very tenet of Islam that there is only ONE GOD. As Endy M Bayuni of Jakarta Post rightly puts it – “ inadvertently or not, (they are) preaching polytheism.”


10)       God does not speak in human words. Words are created by the human mind that wants to convey to others that which he or she sees, hears, smells, touches and tastes. From what comes through these senses, the human person extrapolates with his/her intelligence all the common features of similar things and comes up with a symbolic word, e.g., that is a “tree”.


11)      God is spirit. The Absolute has no human body through which IT comes to know. The Almighty does not speak in any human language. He/She/It is beyond and above all limited human language.


12)      Why must one pray in a particular language, be it in Latin or in Arabic or in Pali, etc.? This human rule seems to say that God or Allah can ONLY understand that one language. This is tantamount to limiting the power of God to being able to understand only one language.  It is also equivalent to saying that there are other gods who can understand other languages. It defeats the basic belief of the monotheist religions that believe that there is ONLY ONE GOD, CREATOR OF ALL THINGS.


13)        Hence, to limit THAT ABSOLUTE BEING to any human word would be equivalent to making Him/Her/It a human being. This is what we humans say: “to anthropomorphize” the Absolute Almighty. It would be an insult to make Him/Her/It less than what IS.




From the above, it is clear that to forbid anyone from using any word ALLAH for that ABSOLUTE ALMIGHTY is to fall into irrationality and absurdity. Worse still it is admitting that there are many Creators or Allah(s) which is forbidden by the Holy Quran. It is, therefore, against all reasoning, all facts and truths.


By Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing, S.J.



[1] ) Wikipedia,Állah


[3]  From Mr. Jagir Singh, president of the MGS (Malaysian Gurdwaras Council) published in MALAYSIAKINI.

[4]  ) ibib.

[5]  ) translated by A. J. Arnerry

[6]  Taken from CFM published by HERALD , May 26, 2013

[7]  ) Jan 10,  2013


NOTE: Used with permission by Bishop Emeritus Dr. Paul Tan