Thursday, 30 January 2014

WHAT 'S IN A WORD? The Context of the "Allah Controversy" - The Final Part

This concludes Iain Buchanan's article from the previous posting:

(3)  The Malaysian Connection.  In a country as diverse as Malaysia, the use of culturally or religiously charged words is especially problematic.  After all, words are never neutral, they mean what we want them to mean.  So the intention behind the word is all-important - especially in such sensitive (and strategic) concerns as bible translation.  And especially in a context which involves so many known points of potential conflict - whether religious, ethnic, rural-urban, or regional; a context in which disparities  may interact and interweave in the most complex of ways: as evident, for example, in the status of East Malaysian Christian bumiputeras in a Muslim-majority federation.

Within this context, the Christian campaign for the use of the word "Allah", especially within a Malay language context, is unfortunate - in a number of highly sensitive ways, it stands as a metaphor for dissent and division, rather than tolerance and coexistence.  And it conforms to an evangelical message that too often seems hostile to Islam and Muslims, and (at the very least) designed to alienate Christians from non-Christians in a multi-cultural country.  This can be seen at two levels: first, in the highly ambiguous usage of the word, and second, in the political context of the campaign (including the relationship between Malays and non-Malays, and the relationship between Peninsular and East Malaysia).

Perhaps, given this dire state of affairs, there are a number of steps that evangelicals can take to restore a degree of confidence in their honour - and in their role as partner in the task of nation-building.

They can begin by restraining the zealots.   In modern evangelicalism, much of the zealotry revolves around people like C. Peter Wagner.    And in Malaysia (as elsewhere) the influence of C. Peter Wagner and his ilk is strong and growing - in large churches (of various denominations) such as Metro Tabernacle, Grace Assembly, City Harvest,  Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB), and Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC), in an increasing number of smaller churches both in Peninsular and East Malaysia, and across a wide range of "secular" activities (such as business, education, and entertainment) - evangelization, it is worth remembering, is not just a matter of church prayers.

But Wagner and his friends don't have a monopoly on zealotry.  As active players in a global movement, Malaysia's NECF (National Evangelical Christian Fellowship) itself may sit beside some very dubious bedfellows - like Brother Yun, leader of the Back to Jerusalem Movement, who claims that his efforts may cost over 10,000 martyrs to the cause of evangelizing the Muslim world.  In 2005, Brother Yun's recruitment visit to Malaysia was enthusiastically sponsored - and later defended- by the NECF.   In addition, Brother Yun's main Western promoter, the missionary Paul Hattaway, now teaches in the Malaysian School of Cross-cultural Mission.

If zealots are to be controlled (and trust between religious communities restored) it is people like Wagner and his cohorts, and Brother Yun, who need to be reined in.  Not, in the first instance, by the authorities.  No: above all, it is such people's co-religionists, their fellow-Christians, who need to take steps, in full public view, to clear the air.  After all, Muslims are constantly being urged to banish the zealots from their own stables; so this is not much to ask.  Perhaps, then, Muslims can begin to feel that there is nothing suspicious  about the use (by Christians of any persuasion) of any particular word.

Secondly, it may be politic for Christians to admit that non-Christians do have reasonable grounds for doubting their good intentions.  And this applies across all denominations, whether avowedly "evangelical" or not.   For in Christianity, more than any other religion, the line between what is evangelical and what is not is extremely (and often wilfully) blurred.  And furthermore, as the present situation shows, evangelical fervour can be a very cooperative virtue - uniting Catholic and Protestant, "evangelical" and "mainline", on matters of common strategic interest (such as the use of the word "Allah").  It may be wiser to show a little more tact, and a little more humility - rather than to hammer on about "victimhood", "state persecution", and "abuse of human rights".

For the reality is, in global terms, and in Malaysian terms, Christians are not victims.  That is not to say that many Christians, (or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists) are not victims.  It is to say that, in terms of wealth, happiness, and personal safety, Malaysian Christians are certainly no worse off than their co-religionists in the West - whatever their mullahs try to suggest to the contrary.

And in this whole tangled debate, this is perhaps the most important fact of all.


Apocryphalist said...

Dear Mdm,

This, and the preceding 2 or 3 articles touching the subject, is very factual and informative. Is there any chance of, say, formatting them in some kind of .pdf files and posting (i.e. immortalizing) them in your page, readily downloadable and distributable? That would help the cause quite greatly.

I agree with the writer on the chicaneries involved regarding the name Allah. On one hand they DISBELIEVE that the name is that of God's, in so much as labelling the worshippers (i.e. Muslims) as hell-bound, whereas on the other vigorously insisting to put the name inside their bibles (but only malay ones, mind you!)

That raises a most pertinent theological/doctrinal/ sacramental question: Can a faith which is thought to be based upon truth, righteousness and sanctity, rely upon deceits, trickeries and outright dishonesty in their proselytization efforts?

Or perhaps more succinctly: Is the usage of falsehoods, lies and chicaneries in spreading the word about God, mandated by that God Himself?

No need to ponder far. I think I have the answer roughly. As I have mentioned here, there is an almost frenzied trepidation on evangelizing a religion that is slowly but assuredly on the decline. More and more thinking and intellectual people in the west are leaving Christianity massively. The man-made, scribe-written dogmas about the myth of a man-god that make little sense, admitted both by skeptics and Christian scholars alike (references given there), have forced former faithfuls to look into other alternative beliefs to satisfy a natural human curiosity.

Although by default Atheism and eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism seem to be popular, recent years have seen Islam (especially since the absurd official explanations of 9-11) to be the number One religion favored by these truth-seekers, resulting in converts from all walks of the western life: professors, scientists, philosophers, artists and, ironically, Christian priests themselves (again, links and references given).

The church, however, continues to dwindle down both in importance and authority. Huge structures like Cathedrals continue to become remnants of bygone ages, existing only for intrinsic values of Arts and Architecture rather than Faith and Spirituality, prompting Mick Romney to eulogize about Europe's Cathedrals: so huge, so grand, so Empty! So imagine the chafed resentment, imagine the vehement rancor when you have to be reminded day in and day out by things like this one or realize situations like that one.

Thus in lieu of that, how can a religion grow, or at least how can it stop from becoming totally extinct? The answer: by getting new converts. And assuredly, not new converts from the west themselves, but from the “less developed world”. Those where poverty strive, and those where pictures of connections between western development and faith are falsely intertwined (falsely because as explained earlier, the more developed the minds of these people are, the more they tend to leave Christianity).

And suddenly, using Lies,Falsehoods and Cheats become attractive “ways to justify means” for these evangelists. And that is why my petition to get answers from the pope here would not be practical for the Catholics: it would only set to expose that these Lies, Falsehoods and Cheats go beyond the realm of local Pakiams or Paul Tans or Lawrence Andrewses. The Chicaneries now can be traced back to that of the Papacy himself!


anak si-hamid said...

Dear Apocryphalist,
(from Iain Buchanan)
Many thanks for your comments. They (and the references) give me plenty to ponder on!
They touch upon some serious topics - the place of dishonesty in religion, the spiritual collapse in the West, the evangelical push in the non-Western world - and so they need to be answered in proper detail.

I shall reply in a few days time.
Many thanks,
Iain Buchanan

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Apocryphalist,
My reply is long - I have divided it into three.
(a)Evangelical deception. Perhaps the most important reason for this is the overlap of secular and religious motives in evangelization. (1) Secular powers use the missionary as a fifth column, an intelligence source, a shop window, a toe in the door. This is well-documented: e.g., the role of World Vision as a State Department proxy in Iraq, and as a "human rights" policeman in SE Asia. (2) the evangelicals use all manner of secular guises (as so-called "tent-makers") to get into "difficult" (mainly Muslim" countries. That is why disasters like the tsunami are so welcome; why education exchanges are so useful; why expatriate business postings are so sought after. Lying is often crucial to seal the arrangement. Again, as you will know, there is plenty of documentation.
It's all about political power. With old-fashioned evangelism, you can convince someone to the core of their soul - but one by one; with modern industrial-scale evangelization, you can reach a crowd, pick up a few true believers in the process - and control thousands. Strategically the first is a waste of effort, the second gives you power.

The Bible condones lying, say the evangelicals (e.g., in John 18: 19-40; Joshua 2: 1-14; Hebrews 11: 31; Luke 16: 1-9). This may simply reflect the role of the Bible as a source of justification for all manner of mortal folly - from lying to making war - or it could be that evangelicals are interpreting passages in ways that were not originally intended in order to serve their mortal ends. Certainly, lying cannot be a mandate from God!
(b)Religious change in UK and Malaysia. UK Census figures show that, between 2000 and 2010, the Christian share of the population dropped from 71.7% to 59.3%, those with "no religion" from 14.8% to 25.1%, Muslims from 3% to 4.8%. There has been an increase in conversions to Islam, but most of the Muslim increase is due to immigration and birth rate.
As for the Christian decline, the figures hide a marked increase in Pentecostalists - among urban Blacks and young Whites. This is part of a global phenomenon which also hits Malaysia: the 700% increase(from 74 million to 600 million) in Charismatic/Pentecostalist Christians between 1970 and 2010.
This increase is hitting Malaysia with a vengeance: here, the fastest increase in religious affiliation is among the Pentecostalists (who number about 70,000); between 1995 and 2010, the number of Assemblies of God adherents rose from 18,000 to 50,000 - i.e., a 233% increase (about 16% p.a., compared with about 5-6% in UK).
The Charismatic/Pentecostalist group is not large, but it is aggressive, and its influence is causing other denominations to adopt much of its style and even theology: thus, Singapore Anglicanism is notoriously Pentecostalist, and the Catholics are debating how to blunt the challenge by adopting aspects of the Pentecostalist way.
Pentecostalism is strongly American and African, strongly influenced by "spiritual warfare", strongly Christian-Zionist, and appeals to aspiring millionaires and the poor alike (through the "prosperity gospel" and the promise of healing, personal salvation, etc.)
Much of the evangelical movement is Charismatic Pentecostalist: C.Peter Wagner's enterprise, the Nigerian evangelicals in Malaysia (an increasingly big business); the Back to Jerusalem churches; big agencies like YWAM (and their various Muslim-aimed missions); the "mega-churches" in Malaysia and Indonesia, etc. (continued)

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Apocryphalist,
(second and final part of comment!)
(c) The Global Structure. The evangelical leaders see their movement as a global movement in which all parts must be coordinated and mobilized as one united, and all-powerful, strategy. This is not "conspiracy theory": during the last 40 years, evangelical operators have assiduously devised and applied a complex, well-integrated, well-funded, and global programme of penetration aimed at the non-Western world - and especially at the Muslim world.

This puts a country like Malaysia at a disadvantage: it is subject not only to the pressures of evangelical insurgency from within, but also to the carefully coordinated pressures of a myriad outside forces - evangelical militants from the US, China, Africa, Latin America, Europe, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, often in disguise, intent on subverting Malaysian society. And this is the crucial point: Malaysia has been deliberately targeted, by a range of evangelical players, as a laboratory in which to develop tactics for the rest of Asia. Evangelical Christians around the world love Malaysia - and many a local evangelical is playing the game. This is why the gripe about "victimization" is so laughable.
(see, e.g., And don't forget Babelfish!

anak si-hamid said...

Sorry - I forgot to sign off!
Iain Buchanan

Anonymous said...

The whole article is one straw man with regard to the situation in Malaysia.

The Sabahan and Sarawakian Native Christians have been using 'Allah' in their sermons, services, religious texts, etc. long before they joined the federation. Only recently did this become an issue, thanks to increasingly intolerant views held by some officials.

Suppose if the West were to ban the alQuran on pretext that it mentions Jesus (Isa) and the religious context of Jesus (Isa) as a prophet contradicts the mainstream religion. Now how would you feel?

I for sure will be critical of it. Just as how critical I am of these efforts to prohibit the Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians from practicing their own religious beliefs.

But for certain some fellas here will be singing an entirely different song!

anak si-hamid said...

To Anonymous, Feb 7:
You completely miss the point.

I didn't say use of the word Ällah" by Christians should be banned. I said such use of the word was unfortunate - given the context of (a) the delicate ethnic/religious situation in Malaysia, and (b)the behaviour of the evangelicals (in particular their tendency towards arrogance, and their common use of deceit).

If the evangelicals are able to change that context, and show rather more honesty and humility, then fine, go ahead.

As for your comment about "the West", well, again you completely miss the point. The West, after all, wasn't overrun for three centuries by Muslim evangelists trying to disguise the Koran in a biblical dress, and Arabize all our cultures!

Iain Buchanan

Anonymous said...

>> I didn't say use of the word Ällah" by Christians should be banned. I said such use of the word was unfortunate - given the context of (a) the delicate ethnic/religious situation in Malaysia, and (b)the behaviour of the evangelicals (in particular their tendency towards arrogance, and their common use of deceit).

Unfortunate perhaps for some. However that does not erase the fact that the Sabahan and Sarawakian Native Christians have been using the word as part of their cultural and religious milleiu long before their union with the Federation

>> The West, after all, wasn't overrun for three centuries by Muslim evangelists trying to disguise the Koran in a biblical dress, and Arabize all our cultures!

The Spanish, Hungarians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Romanians, and other Eastern European nations would disagree.

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Anon Feb. 23rd,
Many thanks for your comment.

The issue is one of intention, and the use of deception to further the intention. The evangelists' own literature makes it clear that bible translation must be carefully "contextualized" in order to penetrate target (and often resistant) cultures - especially by using local (and highly culture-specific) words to indicate the conceptions which evangelists wish to implant. To put it another way, the meanings of words are changed to further evangelical intent.

This applies with special relevance to use of the word "Allah" in a largely Malay Muslim context. In Southeast Asia, many words are used to signify the Supreme Being. The Iban themselves have numerous terms: so why, in the Iban Bible, use "Allah"? And why, in the Bahasa Malaysia Al Kitab, use "Allah"?

But bible translation must be put in context. It is just part of a much deeper strategy of religious (and wider cultural) subversion, exemplified by Insider Movements, Seven Mountains Theology, Business as Mission, the Christian "Relief and Development" industry - and the wider panapoly of evangelical "tent-making". All too often, across a wide range of activities, evangelical intention is deliberately obscured.

As for the West: in all the comings and goings of mediaeval (and later) European history, one could never accuse the Muslims of seeking to take over the world by stealth. Muslims have never packaged the Koran to suit the market in quite the same way that Christian evangelists have packaged the Bible.