Dr Wan Azhar Wan Ahmad, in his article The ‘Allah’ issue re-articulated (IKIM.STAR Feb 19, 2013) wrote that the Malay translation of the Bible is wrong in using the word “Allah”. The reasons are as follows:-
1. that “Allah” is the proper name for God in Islam. Therefore, it cannot and should not be translated into any language.
2. citing quotations from certain Christian priests, Dr Mohd Sani Badron, who wrote, Heresy arises from words wrongly used shows that even the religion itself disapproves of any attempt to paint its trinity concept with Islamically-inclined contents.
3. ‘God’ is a common word whereby the only correct Malay translation for it is ‘Tuhan.’
4. ‘Allah’ is the proper name for the Absolute one God of Islam. As such, it cannot be translated and must be basically maintained as it is.
Dr Wan Azhar remarked that the article in the NST of Jan 10 & 11, 2013 by two research fellows at Himpunan Keilmuan Muslim Bangi, Selangor perhaps has put the last nail to the contentious encounter.
He alludes that the opinion of these scholars has the potential for confusion as the word ‘Allah’ is not confined only to Muslims but also to Christians. This confusion will constitute a grave infringement upon the greater right of the Muslims over the name by which they call upon God as understood correctly and truly in Islam; in Islam, the word ‘Allah’ is not a translation of some other word nor is it a product of cultural syncretism that develops through history, but it is the name which God had chosen to call Himself and to make Himself known to mankind.” There seems to be a translational error in the past if indeed the word “Elohim” or “El” was rendered into Allah and the word YHWH into “Tuhan.” If this is true, then the refusal to correct this error by substituting the incorrectly translated word with the correct translation is puzzling.
What this then boils down to is an error of translation in the Malay / Indonesian Bibles of the English word ’God’ to ‘Allah’. Similar mistakes were made by assuming that the Malay Bible is translated from the King James version.
The base text of the Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia version has never been from any English version. Indeed the Alkitab makes it clear that it is based on the Biblia Hebraica text for the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament and the Nestle-Aland text for the Greek New Testament.
‘Allah’ is the name of God in the old as well as modern Arabic Bible. The word had been used continuously in the Malay translations from the first printed edition of Matthew’s Gospel by Ruyl (1629), the first and second complete Bible by Leijdecker (1733) and Klinkert (1879) and other translations since then.
The Dutch Malay dictionary in Ruyl’s time had only ‘Allah’ for God. The oldest Latin Malay dictionary had only this meaning.
For nearly 400 years, the Malay / Indonesian language Bible has been in use, with ‘Allah’ in its texts without notice. How then has it created offence now?
A final argument is: “It follows that the often-repeated argument that Christians should be permitted to use the name ‘Allah’ because it has long been used, and continues to be used, by non-Muslims in the Middle East, for example Christian Arabs, overlooks the historical fact that it was Islam that first introduced the word to the religious and intellectual consciousness of the peoples in the Malay world, especially Muslims.”
This argument is not sustainable as it ignores the fact that Greek, Turkish, Arab, Persian, Indian and other nationalities of the ancient world traders knew of the Malay Peninsula and brought trade, religion and language. Golden Chersonese is the ancient name for the Malay Peninsula, as named by the Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy.
Ancient Indian trader communities have left their mark in the Malay language by the numerous loan words such as agama, dosa, jiwa, neraka, puasa, surga, nelayan, bahasa, guru, etc (The Indonesian Language, James Sneddon). At the same time Malay became the lingua franca.
One of the earliest accounts of the Christian communities in South east Asia comes from Cosmas Indicopleustes in the sixth century. He speaks of Christian communities in Socotora, India, Ceylon, Pegu (Burma), Cochin-China (southern Vietnam), Siam and Tonquin (northern Vietnam).
If we follow the pattern of the spread of Islam in the Arab peninsula, it can be postulated that Arab and Persian Christians were trading in this region and brought early forms of Christianity such as the Nestorian or Assyrian faith to the far east and with it, ‘Allah’ of Persian and Arab Christians. So then who can claim first rights to “that first introduced the word to the religious and intellectual consciousness of the peoples in the Malay world.”
Indian trade with South-east Asia had been active for centuries before and after this period seeing the spread of Buddhism and Hinduism. Is it conceivable that the Church from India, Ceylon, Pegu, etc stood mute and did not send missionaries to their trading partners in Indonesia and what is now Malaysia? In the The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, “Persian and Turkish traders with Nestorian Christian origins were in the region as early as the 7th century.” What would an Assyrian or Nestorian write but in Arabic or Persian or Syriac and would use the word ‘Allah.” It would then appear that ‘Allah’ was Christian in origin and introduced into the “the religious and intellectual consciousness of the peoples in the Malay world” and not the other way around.
The search and use of new words and terms absent in each language’s vocabulary has been from earliest times when one’s language is deficient in words and expressions to articulate a higher meaning or ideal, and ‘Allah’ was another example.
A recent revision to the Nicean Creed (Roman Missal), goes back to an original expression in Latin as the expression “one in Being with the Father” does not translate consubstantialem adequately.
It is after the Portuguese conquest of Malacca in 1511 that the formal history of Western Christianity in South East Asia was written and preserved as records giving the impression that the use of ‘Allah’ in Christian Malay prayer is of recent origins and post dates the arrival of Islam as the Portuguese and Dutch may have rediscovered these ancient Christians in Malaya and Indonesia as they did in India and Ceylon who became medieval Roman Catholics and Protestants or remained Assyrian due to the strong links to India in Kerela.
To restrict the use of the word ‘Allah’ as a result of assuming mistranslations of nouns and pronouns and its earliest introduction into the Malay consciousness by Islam alone is misconceived. -- By Patrick C Augustin