A REFLECTION AND RESPONSE TO ISSUES ON ISLAMIC DA’WAH, CHRISTIAN EVANGELISM, INTER-FAITH DIALOGUE, CONTEXTUAL USE OF ISLAMIC TERM, APOSTASY, REFUTING ALLEGATIONS AND CLARIFICATION ON PREVAILING MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ISLAM AND IT’S APPROACHES ON DA’WAH
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
“I am referring to the recent controversy (May 2008) in Malaysia regarding the request by the Catholic Church, for their use of the term ‘Allah’ in their translation of the Bible and other religious tracts for their congregation (in Bahasa Malaysia) and the objection of the Malaysian Islamic Authorities. The court there has now allowed the matter to be forwarded for a judicial review in the civil court.
My question for you is: ‘Does Islam have any objection for others of different faith from using this term? If it does object, (it seem obvious for most people to interpret from the Malaysian case that imply that only Muslims can use the name Allah), why is this so? And if Islam does not object to this, how would you then explain the basis for their objection? Are they wrong? Or perhaps there are other plausible explanations to this issue which may not have been considered.
6.0 Historical resistance of Christians in acknowledging the Name “Allah”
The controversy in Malaysia when Catholics sought permission to using the name “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia translation of the Bible must be studied in its proper perspective, with consideration to the wider context of the historical Christian-Muslim engagement, as well as the uniquely Malaysian socio-political landscape. Selective and partial knowledge of the facts; tendencies to make assumptions based on generalisation; disinterest to seek out and listen to the other side’s explanations, coupled with the emotional sentimental baggage of feeling victimised, may have caused misperceptions in certain people, as though Muslims’ are unjust and intolerant towards them.
As previously elaborated in this issue, Islam’s main message is to invite all towards the Truth that there is no other god but God – whose name in the proper noun in Arabic is “Allah.” It is not merely accepting this name, but the essential absolute Oneness of God which this name represents is what we Muslims, would like to share with everyone.
When Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. came with the Message, amongst those unto whom he invited to Islam were even notable Christian leaders (e.g. to the Christian King Negus of Ethiopia; the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius ; the Patriarch of Alexandria; and he even received a delegate headed by a Bishop from Najran (Yemen) where they debated in the mosque of the Prophet.
For Muslims believe that the actual teaching of Jesus Christ (Al-Maseeh ‘Isa a.s.) is essentially the same as Muhammad’s message s.a.w., and in fact Muhammad s.a.w. came to correct certain false notions which had been fabricated, and several deviant innovations that were ascribed to his teaching subsequrntly by the Christians, already current during Muhammad’s time. Islam’s objections to these teachings are clear, well documented in the Qur’an and still remain open for discussion with them. Unfortunately, instead of continuing this dialogue with Muslims, Christendom pursued a hostile stance towards Muslims, beginning with the Byzantine, which later escalated with the rest of Christian-Europe launching the Crusades against Islam. It was not simply a military enterprise, but the then Church was leading a propaganda campaign (beginning with Pope Urban II) calling for eradication of these 'infidels' and this 'false' religion. Systematic smear tactic and dissemination of lies (e.g. that Muslims committed wanton massacre in the Holy land, their forcing Christians at the point of the sword to convert etc.); distortions concerning Islam and Muslims to their laity (who regarded the Pope's edict ex-cathedra as infallible), aimed at inciting animosity of Christians towards Muslims. These were unscrupulously used and even justified by the Church to sustain their campaign in attempting to take over Jerusalem from Muslim control.
Amongst the lies perpetrated was that they accused Muhammad s.a.w. as an evil man, a false prophet - the antichrist, who rejected Christ (whereas Islam is the only non-Christian religion that makes it compulsory for its followers to acknowledge Jesus as the 'Christ'); accusing the Muslims as heathen worshipping some pagan Arabic god (whereas Muhammad s.a.w. brought the Arabs out from pagan idolatry (polytheism) to adhering to the true monotheism of Prophet Ibrahim a.s.), etc. All these lies which had been concocted by religious leaders of the Church have, since then, misled many lay Christians to harbour deep seated prejudice towards Islam and Muslims - even to this day. Although, they may be living amongst Muslims and interacting daily with them, yet what Islam stands for, or what it teaches, evaded or rather more likely, purposely avoided by them because of the prejudicial teaching of the Church. Only with II Vatican Council (1965) - to the credit of the Catholic Church - they have admitted to these mistakes and made significant effort towards reconciliation. This was stated in their publication:
“Vatican II however acknowledged that Muslims “are related in various ways to the People of God.” Indeed, Muslims hold “first place” among those who “acknowledge the Creator.” They profess “the faith of Abraham” and along with Catholic “adores the one and merciful God” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 1964 n.16). Moreover, God looks upon the Muslims “with esteem. Although they do not recognize Jesus as divine, they revere him as a prophet and they honour Mary, his mother, as well. Muslims are also people who “prize the moral life, and give worship to God especially through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.” The council urge both sides to forget the past and to “strive sincerely for mutual understanding,” making “common cause for safeguarding and fostering social justice, moral values, peace and freedom.”
(Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, 1965 n.3)
Although Muslim would welcome this, yet we are aware that such view has not been agreed upon by all Christians. Even within the Roman Catholic Church, there are dissenting groups towards this II Vatican Council initiatives, let alone the other non-Catholic Christian denominations. We do note that during the previous Pope John Paul II, there were positive steps and initiatives reflecting this reconciliation. But with the current Pope Benedict XVI, ever since his controversial lecture delivered on 12 September 2006 at University of Regensburg in Germany may have dented previous reconciliatory works of the Catholic Church, especially when he made a veiled suggestion (by quoting a Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos’ words, not his own) that Islamic teaching allowed "spreading the faith through violence" and followed by sweeping indictment as to the irrationality of Islam; - insinuating that - generally speaking, in Christianity, God is understood to act in accordance with reason, while in Islam, God's absolute transcendence means that "God is not bound even by his own word", and can act in ways contrary to reason, including self-contradiction.
And he seemed to believe these lies, which only demonstrate how much (or is it little?) his understanding of Islam - or if he knew the assertion was wrong, than why not state his opinion to the contrary?. Although he may have offered apology after receiving strong worldwide reactions, yet Muslims is justified to ask: “Is the Catholic Church sincere in wanting reconciliation? Is the reconciliatory spirit of the II Vatican Council as pursued by his predecessor, on the new Pope’s agenda?” For Muslims to be suspicious of Catholics and their initiatives now, this would be understandable.
6.1 Rejection by Christians of Muslim’s argument that the name “Allah” would have been used by Jesus in Biblical times.
Thus, from these we may understand why Christians generally harbour many misconceptions concerning Islam. When told that there are in fact many similarities in the teachings of Islam with that of the Judaic and Christian religion, many scoffed at this and refused to even check to verify. “Muslims were all heathen, infidels, and cannot possibly be worshipping the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus” was etched in their minds. Also, “what has an Arab got to do with Abraham who was Hebrew?” they would remonstrate, forgetting the plight of Abraham’s first-born son Ishmael mentioned in their scripture, who became the ancestor of the Quraysh Arabs in Makkah (the biblical land of Paran). They seemed to imagine that the Semites were only the Jews.
When Muslims engaged Christians to debates, the assertion that “Allah” is name of the God of Abraham and every prophet of the Israelites in Arabic, this was met with ridicule. Yet, they do not realise that Arabic and Hebrew, both are Semitic languages. Even in Jesus’ time, the spoken language was Aramaic (a Hebrew dialect) which has many similar sounding words as in Arabic. This fact simply evades them. This could be attributed to the Christians reliance upon (Koine) Greek – the language upon which all their Gospels and letters in the New Testaments were written in – which alienated them to appreciate the Muslim’s assertion. Still, there is one passage in their present-day Bible that recorded Christ to have spoken in Aramaic: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabach tani?” meaning “My God, my God why have You forsaken me” (Gospel of Mark 15: 34 ). Note that the Arabic rendition of “my God” would be “ilaahi”, for “ilah” means “god” with the suffix “ya” to indicate “mine”.
Just like the Arabic “ilah”, the Hebrew “Elah” (Aramaic "Eloi") translated as “god” is not a proper noun (name) but a common noun for “god”. They would sometimes apply a suffix “–im” plural of respect, and thus it becomes “Elohim”. Still this is not a name (proper noun) but a common noun. To the Jews, God’s Holy Name (proper noun) as written in the tetragrammaton “YHWH” (without vowels) was not to be uttered - although some Christians renders it as ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Jehovah’ – but to the Jews, utterance of this Holy name would be an abomination. Jesus, being a Jew would, likewise, not have uttered this name, but instead would have used other common noun viz. “Eli” or “Elah” or “Elohim” (meaning ‘god’) or “Adonai” (My Lord) or “Abbana” (Our Father).
Now with this background, it is no wonder that Christians are stumped when asked “what is the name of God?” (i.e. the proper noun). And of course when the book was translated into a non-Semitic language (Greek and Latin), much would have been lost. Reliance upon the Hellenized (Greek) text would further alienate them from seeing the similarity between Hebrew (Aramaic) with Arabic - which are Semitic. Even when a biblical scholar, a Reverend C. I. Scofield, explained in a footnote in “Scofield Reference Bible” where he thought it appropriate to also consider rendering the Hebrew word for God ‘Elah’ as well as ‘Alah.’ Linguistically he was right. (Remember, just like Arabic, Hebrew words are written without vowels. Thus the word can be rendered or read in several ways, depending on grammar and sentence construct). Quote:
1 “Elohim (sometimes El or Elah) English form, “God,” the first of the three primary names of Diety, is a uni-plural noun formed from El – strength, or the strong one, and Alah, to swear, to bind oneself by an oath, so implying faithfulness...”
This comment was removed from subsequent edition of that Bible, perhaps it had rattled some evangelists who were referred to it by the Muslims debating with them (re: Sheikh Ahmad Deedat). Its removal was rather mysterious, without any explanation or even reference, as though it never existed! Why?
So, it needs to be recorded that many Christians had all along objected to suggestion that the Bible contain terms for God which sound similar or have any resemblance to Islamic terms. Many Christians still regard Muslims as being heathens. There is even today, in the USA, a certain Dr. Morley, who disseminates an incredible lie (in fact a blasphemy) that “Allah” is the name of a pagan moon god worshipped by the Arabs. Regrettably we do not see other well informed Christians correcting this horrible denigration, perpetuating this misconception of equating Islam with paganism. So now, to have Christians seeking to use the name “Allah” in their Bible or religious tracts, would it not invite astonishment, scepticism and even suspicion?
TO BE CONTINUED..........................
(7.0 Now sudden twist - contextualization in evangelical methodology)