Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I am with the Christians who pray to Allah ... oh, and Katy Perry's Guide to Karl Barth

Sometimes I have been asked, Should Christians in Arabic countries translate God with 'Allah'? The concern being that Christians using 'Allah' might convey a wrong understanding of the God of Jesus Christ. It would be better, of course, to ask Arabic Christians what they think. But in a twist to the question, Christians in Malaysia want to use 'Allah' for God and are banned for doing so.

The NYT has a challenging report on the issue facing Christians in this predominantly Muslim country. The ban from using their common word for 'God', that is, 'Allah', applies anywhere outside of churches. This has implications for the publication of Bibles. But is it all a political ploy to magnify minimal threats to Islam? And is it making Malaysia the laughing stock of the Islamic world?

Sticking with Islam, Steve Bell's blog publishes an article on the roots of Islamism worth a look. It makes an important point about the power of ideas and consequentially on the best way to respond to warring ideologies.

I note via Taonga that one aspect of warring ideologies, fighting between Shi'ites and Sunnis, appears to be erupting on the streets of Sydney. Don't go to Syria. Syria is coming to you.

Sometimes Catholics and Protestants have been at war too, both with bullets and with ideas. But Pope Francis is keen to discuss ideas. On the question of the day, marriage, he has invited Protestants to a colloquium. Can you guess which leading Prots are going? Answers here.

Katy Perry, who greets me most mornings in a fetching - that's code for "not many clothes on" - outfit via a poster on my daughter's bedroom wall, is the daughter of Pentecostal pastors (we may recall). What we may not know is that she is a metrical guide to the theology of Karl Barth. Well, sort of. Ace theologian Michael Bird has de-coded the hidden meaning of "I kissed a girl and I liked it." The translated version is here.


David Wilson said...

Some years ago, I visited a good friend who teaches theology in Nigeria. One Sunday, we went to a Hausa-speaking church - a very simple building. In Hausa, which is the lingua-franca of much of that part of sub-Saharan Africa - the word for God is Allah. Its use during the service struck me greatly (perhaps because it was just about the only word I understood!).

So, I have much sympathy for Malaysian Christians, and this might well become a problem in other areas of the world. Please pray for Christians in Nigeria.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Two other Anglican leaders—the United Kingdom's Michael Nazir-Ali and Nigeria's Nicholas Okoh — are also among the 32 speakers" (at a conference on 'Marriage' hosted by Pope Francis) - Peter Carrell -

Oh dear. Why did the Pope have to resort to two of GAFCON's biggest supporters? Did he want these two conservatives to back up the vatican point of view? They certainly can't be said to represent Western Anglicanism.

Chris Nimmo said...

This is an issue I've followed for a while now - I think the basic problem (as we see at the end of the article) is the intersection of politics, ethnicity, and religion in Malaysia. Under the Malaysian "social contract", the Chinese and Indians were allowed to be citizens and practice their own religions, but on the condition that they accepted special treatment for Malays. This is guaranteed under the Malaysian constitution, and it is illegal to question it. By law, all Malays are Muslims; it is illegal to proselytise to Muslims, and if a Muslim is permitted to convert, they lose their "Malayness" and the privileges associated with it.

During the 1970s, the dakwah movement reinforced the connection between Malayness and Islam, and forced UMNO to compete with the Islamist PAS for the Malay vote by actively promoting Islam and making itself, rather than the Sultans, the focus of Malay Islam.

The continuation of Malay-focused policies has created many grievances for Chinese and Indian Malaysians (there are always a lot of stories about, for instance, top students being unable to get into university due to affirmative action in favour of Malays), resulting in the turn away of these groups from UMNO's Chinese and Indian partners. UMNO used to be able to use scare tactics to keep Chinese and Indians on their side - particularly the threat of PAS taking power and implementing hudud, but this didn't happen at the most recent election. Instead, UMNO is now competing with PAS for the fundamentalist vote, and talking about introducing hudud itself. The Allah issue is not entirely about the word itself; it is also about the idea that UMNO needs to protect Muslims from the intruders who are seeking to dominate and exploit them.

Andrew Reid said...

I make the very basic point that in the Arab world, where the word "Allah" comes from, there is no controversy about Christians using that term for God.
Even with all the other persecution and religious tension facing Christians, terminology about "God" is not one of them.