Wednesday, 29 January 2014

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

There is no shame in not knowing, the shame lies in not finding out.  (Russian Proverb)

Many, many moons ago Iain Buchanan was my Geography Tutor at Singapore University.  Of course we had to write essays for him to read, analyze, scrutinize and assess.  We anticipated with anxiety Mr Buchanan's report and criticisms when our papers were returned.  We would always find about 5-6 lines of  comment - that is if you write a reasonably thoughtful essay!!

Now the shoe is on the other foot.  I've cornered him into writing AsH an essay on a very complex and fraught issue in an equally complex and fraught nation.


                             WHAT'S IN A WORD ?
               The context of the "Allah Controversy"

                               by  Iain  Buchanan

If the tussle over the word "Allah" teaches us anything, it is that words have great power for both good and harm - especially in the matter of religious faith.   Christian evangelicals certainly know this, which is why (among other things) the Christian Word Industry is as enormous and as well-funded as it is.   Evangelicals have been translating the Bible into native languages for centuries, so when it comes to manipulating words, they know only too well what they are doing.   Unfortunately, such people also have a lengthy track record of destroying (and at the very least subverting) non-Christian cultures - and using deception in the process.  So, in the wider world, it is understandable that non-Christians are suspicious of Christians when the words they use seem to be of ambiguous intent.

In the global media, the Malaysian authorities are naturally at something of a disadvantage: after all, the Christian freedom to worship is an especially glamorous issue at the moment, and there are plenty of big guns wanting a piece of the action.    So maybe we need to stand back and look at the issue a little more holistically.

In such issues, context is all-important.  Three elements of context seem especially significant here: first, the wider evangelical concern with "non-Christian" words - let's call it the "Christian Word" industry: second, the particular matter of evangelizing Muslims (and the use of the word "Allah"); and third the special complexities of the Malaysian case.  

(1)  The Christian Word industry.  Evangelicals, by definition, have a subversive agenda:  they seek to change how the rest of the world thinks and acts, to assert the hegemony of their own beliefs - and to do this at all costs, in whatever way feasible, through deception if necessary.

Indeed, deception is intrinsic to the evangelization process. It has to be, simply because people will always resist having their most fundamental beliefs destroyed.  And so to overcome this problem, among the many thousands of cultures that they target, evangelicals devised an elaborate programme of approach, penetration, and persuasion - in which deception is justified in terms of divine calling.

And in this crusade to change the world, evangelicals have a particularly potent weapon: they control the language of the entire campaign - they write it, translate it, manipulate it, publish, print, and distribute it on a global scale across every culture there is to be reached and through every tongue and every medium there is to be exploited.  In particular, they have scoured the world's  cultures, languages, and dialects for every local word, every metaphor, every expression, of "God", "Jesus the Son of God", "the Holy Ghost", "Mary",  and any other useable device which will help them to penetrate a target people.

In the process - and for a total of 7,000 linguistic groups and 10,000 cultures - evangelicals have built up huge data-bases of political, socio-cultural, economic, religious and linguistic intelligence.  For religious faith, after all, is a complex matter, deeply rooted in all aspects of being.  It is not simply semantics.  ( )

Not surprisingly, the evangelicals' "Christian Word" industry is enormous.  It comprises thousands of corporate and church bodies.  It is worth many billions of dollars, employs millions, and has the world's most advanced technology ( and sharpest corporate managers ) at its disposal.  It connects, seamlessly, Western corporate finance, advanced military grade telecommunications, neighbourhood churches in Texas (or KL),
tribal village missionaries in the Himalayas (or Borneo),  Bible publishers in China, University linguistics departments, and a hundred other activities.  It is everything from the tract in a hotel drawer to the solar-powered Bible pack in the Bangla Desh borderlands.  You take on the Christian Word industry at your peril.

(click link and go to "Accelerating Bible translation wit....."at bottom left hand).


(2)  Evangelizing Muslims.  The Christian Word industry serves a number of very strategic and very clearly defined objectives.  One of the most important of these is the subversion of Islam.  Of course, being in control of the language, the evangelicals would not put it quite like this - at least not in public, and certainly not amongst Muslims.  Most evangelical public speakers, and most evangelical NGOs would vehemently deny such a motive.  They would prefer the rubric of "mutual respect"  and "peaceful coexistence", dressed in the emollient phrase, the smiling assurance, the earnest plea; they would prefer to disarm the opposition with words.  The record shows a rather different picture.

For decades, the evangelical movement has been engaged in an energetic and systematic campaign to undermine both Islam's spiritual power and its political influence.  From the 1970s, Western Christians launched what was effectively a second reformation of the global church.  The Lausanne Movement, strongly inspired by Billy Graham, Fuller Seminary, and groups like World Vision, set up a series of  "consultations" on key evangelical concerns, including the mechanics of culturally  "contextualizing"  the gospel, and the business of Muslim evangelization.

The Muslims were dealt with most comprehensively in the 1978 Conference on Muslim Evangelization, co-sponsored by Fuller College (and its offshoot the US Center for World Mission)  and World Vision, and held in the Glen Eyrie headquarters of The Navigators.  The official account of this conference ( ), of course stressed mutual respect and friendly persuasion.  But the subversive intent was abundantly clear.

For the next thirty-five years, the West directed a combination of "hard" and "soft" power against the Muslim world, and the evangelicals' strategic interest in the matter grew accordingly.  This interest is both profound and globally articulated, as two recent developments - the launching of Operation Samaria from Nigeria and the re-invigorated Back to Jerusalem Movement from China - amply demonstrate.


Christianity (of western origin),  Chinese Christian Church and their potential(?) harvest of Malay- Muslim children.

These are just two examples of a well-coordinated push against Islam, promoted by a cross-section of Christian denominations ( from Catholic to Pentecostalist ), and defined by a mix of evangelical fervour, political imperative, and wholesale deceit.  Key to the entire process is the work of thousands of "Insider Movements", operating within the theory of the "C1-C6 Contextualization Scale".

C1 - C4 Contextualization Scale.  Malaysia would be included in C1 and C2 and C3.

C5 -C6 Contextualization Scale


It would be naive to pretend that  Muslim evangelization is not a vital concern for Christian evangelicals  And it would be naive to believe that the evangelical use of Islamic or Arab terms is rooted solely in some local expediency.  There will always be a wider socio-cultural, and political,  context for the definition of such words.  So, in the present context, when Christians use a word like "Allah", do they  mean what Muslims mean by the term - in all its theological complexity, with all its cultural and political ramifications?  No, of course they don't.  They mean something that is theologically very different -  not least in its association with the various Prophets (which, after all, is what so distinguishes Islam and Christianity); they also mean something with very particular cultural and political connotations.  And crucially, they can mean various things: from God the Creator to the Devil himself.

Theologians, anthropologists, and linguists will argue endlessly over such matters, no doubt.  But the meaning of a word is all-important - certainly more than its form or sound.  After all, we can be sure that the Kadazan word for God ( "Kinorohingan") meant very different things to a pre-Christian villager and to a convert reading the word in the Kadazan Bible - which, let's face it, is anchored in a totally different cultural world to the pre-Christian village, whatever evangelical "contextualizers" seek to pretend to the contrary.

It is the same with the word "Allah".  Do evangelical Christians really mean what Muslims mean by the word?  Of course not: if they did, there would be no need for evangelism.  For one thing, there is more than a world of difference between the Oneness of the Muslim Allah and the Trinity of the Christian God.  But there is more to it than this.  Consider the words of one of evangelical Christianity's most influential leaders.

In his definition of "Allah",  C. Peter Wagner is categoric:  Allah, he says, is "a high-ranking demonic spirit who has come to steal, to kill, and to destroy."

"Allah," says Wagner, "is the proper name of a spirit being .... he is no more God than is Wormwood or Beelzebub or Apollyon or Shiva or Baal or Lucifer.  All of them are beings created by God, but who ended up agents of Darkness, just as Satan did."

Muslims, by definition, are damned:  "Those who do not believe in Jesus,"  says Wagner,  "including those who worship Allah, are destined to spend eternity in hell."

And Dr Wagner sees his own role ( and that of his followers) as decisive in opposing such a state of affairs:  "God has (entrusted) to us the most challenging assignment ...... the Muslim people of the world, starting with the fifteen nations of the Arab Middle East ... Our sphere also includes the non-Arab Middle East, the Muslim nations outside the Middle East, and the Muslim Diaspora."

"God wants us to start governmentally, connecting with the apostles of the region ....  Once we have the apostles in place, we will then bring the intercessors and prophets into the inner circle, and we will end up with the spiritual core we need ... for retaking the dominion that is rightfully ours."

Of course, not all evangelicals share Wagner's perspective. But a great many do: C. Peter Wagner is a man of enormous influence - and not only  amongst his own Pentecostalists.  Professor of Church Growth in Fuller College, Wagner was also head of the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization's Strategy Working Group.  As the process of Muslim evangelization evolved and accelerated, the role of C. Peter Wagner grew more influential - especially after 1990, when the emphasis on "spiritual warfare" took over much of the evangelical movement.  Indeed when Wagner opened his World Prayer Center in 1998, it was likened to "a spiritual version of the Pentagon", with Wagner himself playing the role of  "the Church's Norman Schwartzkopf."

As evangelicalism becomes ever more infected by the zealots of "spiritual warfare", Wagner and his lieutenants  (including Chuck Pierce and Cindy Jacobs) came to dominate much of the Christian agenda.  Wagner formed a clutch of institutions to frame his evangelizing effort  - Wagner Leadership Institute, Global Harvest Ministries (1991), World Prayer Center (1998), International Coalition of Apostles (1999), and Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders; just as significantly, he and his officers formed links with a wide range of other evangelical groups, usually with common ties to Fuller College, World Vision, and the Billy Graham network - and all firmly anchored to the Lausanne evangelical process.

In other words, Dr Wagner emerged as a kingpin in a diverse, tightly-organised, and global effort of subversion - directed from the heart of the evangelical movement, against all non-Western cultures, but especially against the Muslim world.  Above all, Wagner and his many acolytes and proxies shape much of the perception that Christians have of non-Christians - and define much of the language which expresses this.

So, what does this mean?  First and foremost, it means that in the hands of Christian evangelicals, words like "Allah" (or "surga" or "perintah" or "Kinorohingan") are not only convenient biblical devices - they are also potent cultural and political creatures, of variable meaning.  They ramify very tightly, and very significantly, with the social, cultural, and political context of their use.  And the evangelical mullahs know this.  Religious faith is a complex cultural matter; it is also an intricate (and very influential) political matter.  It would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise.  And it would be naive to imagine that, in many an evangelical context, words are not also used as weapons against their rightful owners.  After all, as Dave Cashin, Professor of Intercultural Studies at Columbia International University, said: "We must become Muslims to reach Muslims."

Herein lies the problem.  It is not so much a problem of semantics and etymology; it is a problem of intentionality, a problem of niat.  In the present dispute this seems to be the most important factor of all.  And it has to be said: when it comes to a clarity of intention, Christian evangelicals have a pretty bad track record.

( The third element of context :  The Malaysian Connection, will be posted tomorrow.)


zack said...

This is a very good essay. Do you where can I read the whole essay?

zack said...

Btw, is it word or world in "The Christian Word industry"?

IT.Scheiss said...

This is a very informative essay on evangelisation strategies and the "Allah" controversy with many links to substantiate Buchanan's arguments.

These evangelical organisations are marketing religion in a very slick mannner and I would not be surprised at all if the CIA is behind them as part of western imperialist strategy.

I am neither Christian, Muslim nor Jewish and having done some research into the history of religions in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, it's become quite obvious that the different religions were rather tribal or national in character, hence their respective versions of the almighty God, whom they counterposed against their rivals' and enemies' versions of God.

Many of my friends and relations are Christians and are great people, and Christianity has many good teachings.

However, my main disagreement with Christianity is that one must accept Jesus Christ as their saviour so that their sins can be forgiven through God in the form of Jesus having suffered and died on the cross to pay for mankind's sins, starting with the sin of Adam, which all mankind has inherited.

Judaism and Islam do not believe in the concept of the original sin of Adam being passed down through the descendants, nor that one has to go through an intercessor (Jesus) to reach God (the Father), as man can speak to God directly and seek his forgiveness as a son would to his earthly father.

Christianity emerged out of Judaism and includes the Jewish scriptures as part of its Bible, yet regards itself quite different and separate from Judaism, and even considers the Jews "wrong" for not accepting Jesus as their saviour.

Judaism on the other hand sees Christianity as a kind of "deviationist" outgrowth of Judaism.

As a Jew, Jesus had serious objections over how Judaism was being practiced under the leadership and guidance of the Pharisee Jewish priesthood, which he regarded as extravagant and corrupt.

The Judaism of that time also placed emphasis on a Jew's very mechanical strict adherence to laws, observances and practices to be regarded as a "good Jew," rather than one's personal relationship with God.

Thus Jesus antagonised the Jewish priestly elite who demanded his execution by the imperial Romans who occupied Israel at the time.

Many of the persecutions of followers of Christianity, Judaism and others which followed in the centuries following Christ's crucifiction are all related to these ancient antagonisms stretching back more than two millennia, and today, Islam is also included amongst the conflicting parties.

Also as Buchanan mentioned, not all Christians agree with Christian use of "Allah" for God.

Over 10 years ago, an evangelical Christian colleague told me that Allah of the Muslims is not the same as God of the Christians.

On the other hand, there are other Christian denominations and groups who insist on the the right of Christians to call their God "Allah."

At the end of the day, there is a lot of secular politics, including NGO and party politics involved in the "Allah" issue.

I'm also sure that the l-a-a-a-a-a-a-r-yers are also having a field day goading on respective parties to continue playing political football with "Allah."

anak si-hamid said...

Thanks, Zack, for your comments. The whole essay is now published. As for the second query - well, it's both, isn't it? Couldn't be more global than the evangelical movement!
Iain Buchanan

anak si-hamid said...

Dear IT.Scheiss
Thanks for the comment. As for the NGOs, politics, and the lawyers - I agree completely!!
Iain Buchanan

Anonymous said...

The problem for Christians is that they translate ho theos/ton theon equivalent to generic nouns of (the god) or Al-ilah in Aramaic/Arabic to that of the word Allah.

For those who try to look into the etymology of the word Allah will relate it to root ilah with tittle Al- (the) in front. However, when doing comparison of word Allah with generic nouns like ilah or Al-ilah , one will find it is not equal to those two words. For example we have titles of God like Al-awal, Al-akhir, when one wish to invoke either one as name, one drops the word Al-, by saying O Awal, or O Akhir. The same cant be applied when doing supplication towards Allah, as one will say O Allah. Not O Ilah, O Lah, nor does can one imply that such invocation is due to existence of title Al-allah. The reason is that Allah is proper/unique noun.