Sunday, April 18, 2021

Is going to court the only way to settle ‘Allah’ issue?

Interfaith dialogues were the norm during the Prophet's time; why shouldn't the same be done now?

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Controversy over the use of the term “Allah” in the Malay version of the Bible has cropped up again. This 13-year-old court battle seems not to have ended yet since the Malaysian government has filed an appeal against the court ruling allowing the use of the term “Allah” by Christians in their publications.

Nevertheless, shouldn’t we look at avenues other than the court to find an amicable solution to this “deadlock”? We have not seen much dialogue between the two faiths in order to find a cordial solution to this controversy involving two major faiths. In fact, were there any dialogues made between the two Abrahamic faiths to resolve this issue? Looking to the past, during the times of the Prophet Muhammad and also the caliphs after him, inter-religious dialogues were not unusual.

The Prophet had frequent dialogues and debates with people from other faiths during his time. On one occasion, he entertained a group of Christians from the tribe of Najran and even allowed them to use the mosque while the Christians were in Medina. This showed how hospitable and tolerant the Prophet was to people from other faiths.

Later on, during the Abbasid caliphate, it was not uncommon for the caliphs themselves to organise religious debates. The debates comprised scholars from within Islam and also outside the Islamic faith, be it Christians, Jews, atheists or adherents of other faiths. It was during Harun al-Rashid, the Abbasid caliph’s rule, that knowledge and science flourished.

Now, in the 21st century where mankind has advanced greatly in terms of knowledge and civilisation, shouldn’t we also allow religious dialogues or debates be held?

Let religious scholars from both the Muslims and Christians meet eye to eye to iron out their disagreements. Being religious people, surely both sides would want to find an amicable solution to this “deadlock”. Rather than let the legal system be the judge, in which any verdict would not be well received by either party, wouldn’t it be better if both parties involved put forth their arguments to find a win-win situation to this issue?

In fact, even if the court rules that Christians cannot use the word “Allah” in their Bibles and other publications, how can the government be sure that they do not use the word in their houses, churches and other assemblies, for that matter? Also, in the age of the internet, how can the government stop Christians from using online versions of the Malay Bible from or soft copy versions which are sent via email or other methods? It is very difficult to curb that and even Amar Leo Moggie, once a minister in the Malaysian government, mentioned that he has been using the word “Allah” ever since he was a child.

It is high time that Malaysia gives room for this kind of dialogue to be conducted. Let’s emulate what was done in the past. Islamic history has proven that religious dialogue was alive in the past. There is no reason for us to not allow it to flourish now.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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