Monday, March 21, 2011

Poh Boon Sing: "Should Christians Use the Word 'Allah'?"

Malaysian Reformed Baptist Pastor Poh Boon Sing has an interesting discussion in his online Gospel Highway Magazine concerning whether or not Christians in Malaysia and Indonesia should use the name "Allah" for God, given its predominant use by Muslims.

He first addressed the issue with a 2008 article ("Should Christians Use 'Allah'?") in which he questioned the use of "Allah" for God among Malay and Indonesian believers, including in the Alkitab (the Malay/Indonesian Bible), as confusing the God of Christianity with the God of Islam.  The article begins:

Who is “Allah”? Is he not the god of the Muslims? Or is He the God of the Christians as well? Are Christians and Muslims worshipping the same God when they use the same name, “Allah”? Or are they worshipping two different gods using the same name? Should Christians use “Allah” as the name of the true and living God? Have not the Christians in Arab countries been using “Allah” to refer to God long before the rise of Islam?

He then posted a follow-up article in 2010:  "The Use of 'Allah':  What Next?"

There seem to be a number of issues. One is the theological significance of the terms used for God by believers. Another is the difference between Indonesian believers who are apparently less bothered by the use of "Allah" for God and Malaysian believers (like Poh) who are more bothered by it. Another is a civil rights issue in that Christians in these places have had to contend with Muslim influenced governments for the right to use the word "Allah." Why should they abandon gains?

The second article concludes:

The current use of the words “Allah” as a translation for “God” and “Tuhan” for “Lord” is linguistically and theologically incorrect. Instead of those words, “Tuhan” and “Yamtuan” are proposed as ideal replacements for “God” and “Lord”, respectively.

The task of promoting the use of these replacement words in a revised version of the Alkitab among Christians will not be smooth and easy. We foresee opposition from various quarters arising from fear of change, insistence on the legal right to continue using “Allah”, and unworthy personal considerations in certain church leaders. As I send forth this article, I crave the prayer support of friends and fellow servants of God who see the crying need for a usable version of the Alkitab.

These articles provide insights into the general issues of translating Biblical terms into contemporary languages and the specific problems that believers face in Muslim dominated nations.  The least we can do is heed Pastor Poh's call for prayer for spiritual leaders in these nations and for the provision of an accurate translation of the Scriptures in their language.


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