Thursday, January 7, 2010

Online Allah Debate Opens Up Philosophical Insights

Datuk Marina Mahathir’s blog post "Prophet Muhammad's Promise to Christians" at has opened up interesting philosophical issues facing Malaysia.

The diverse and interesting comments on this blog post can lead us into a deeper discussion about truth and human nature.

One of readers (pro-Allah is exclusive camp) said it is better to be unfair to non-Muslims that they cannot share their faiths while Muslims can openly do so with non-Muslims. He/she warns Muslims with a scenario of former muslims worshiping at a church in PJ.

First, openly sharing the Christian gospel is already possible through the Internet. Even without the Internet, God has His ways to show you the truth sooner or later. Just read the story of the Prodigal Son who was welcomed back by his father despite straying into a sinful life. If your religion has little influence over you, then real life experience will teach you lessons about your purpose in this world.

Second, we are again putting the cart before the horse when we espouse religious orthodoxy at the expense of fairness, kindness and peaceful acceptance of others with different beliefs.

Third, even assuming the former Muslim converts into a false religion, don't you think that one day he will open his eyes to the truth. Or is that false religion so strong and persuasive that he can't see the truth himself?

The last point is most relevant in this Allah debate because we are actually discussing about human nature: can man know spiritual truths through his own personal experience or is it through external laws governing his conduct, speech and rituals?

The Catholics would err if they think that the readers of their Bahasa publications, or Sarawakian Christians for that matter, will be less spiritual and confused by changing the name of Allah to Tuhan.

Likewise, the "Allah is exclusive" Muslim group will also be mistaken to believe that a generic name used by other faiths can have any impact on the richness of their faiths.

But the High Court ruling is right that to make the Allah word exclusive is unjustifiable. It is an infringement of constitutional rights. Not only that, it shows Malaysians to be most superficial, petty and ungracious in their religious practices, far behind Indonesia and many Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East.


Here are some of comments in the intense dialogue:

Dear Marina,

Your article about the historical promise is a wonderful discovery. True religion should tame a man from the inside and not from the outside. Only truth will set people free from the rage that imprisons their souls. Here is the best illustration of the destiny of Malaysia, which is at the crossroads between flirting with theocracy and birthing a true democracy.

Written by pastor TD Jakes on 6 April 2009:

"The founding fathers of America created a democratic system that separated church from state so that, as a country, we could avoid the slippery slope of getting into the business of telling people what to believe. That is a job they left to be determined by the individual, the synagogue, the mosque and the church!

A country that has one national religion as its only compass is much more of a theocracy than a democracy. That kind of tyranny leads to witch burning, spiritual genocide, forced and fraudulent expressions of faith, and God knows what else. As wonderful as faith is, faith out of control can be lethal. I love democracy because it is designed to keep the government from telling me when and how to serve communion, and it allows room for debate without dominance.

Religious people will never agree on everything within or outside of the bounds of the church. Democracy allows that debate without polluting it further with political intervention as long as that debate doesn’t infringe on another human’s rights.

Lately, it is my view that religion has become increasingly a servant to politics, and whenever a flame is needed to move a candidate or party closer to power, they ignite the flame of the faith community by playing on controversial issues and fear."

Munira said...

And interestingly enough, in the Netherlands...What we're really doing is we're arguing semantics. It's petty. But at the same time, as Nehemiah has pointed out, the one good thing that comes out from all this is some of us have learned something new. Nehemiah's sensible argument made a lot of strong points.

Also, if we ban the non-Muslims from using the word Allah, we'll be affecting the prayers of Sikh people as well. Or have we forgotten about them too, or simply ignorant?1. What about us?2. Ban on "Allah" word will interfere with Sikh prayers.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it very unIslamic to interfere with the prayers of other people? Bukankah salah kita mengganggu sembahyang orang lain, walaupun orang itu bukan orang seagama kita?

Be kind. Be generous. Be understanding. It's not that hard, for that is what God, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Holy Quran are trying to teach us. Not hatred. Not prejudice. And definitely not injustice.

January 7, 2010 12:08 PM


Regarding Encik Azahar's comment:

"BTW Marina, do not let your great confidence in ISLAM to blind you from sinister acts of enemies of ISLAM who are always searching for ways to destroy ISLAM"

1. Is the reason why you advise Marina not to have great confidence in ISLAM, is because you think that God will have great confidence in you to carry out the dictates of Islam? i.e. by sounding and acting extra religious?

2. Pray tell who are the sinister enemies of Islam? With the world filled with rising crimes, drug abuse, wars ,etc, is it more important to protect your religion and your God's generic name, which is not exclusive btw, or make the world a better place to live in by truly transforming man's inner soul?

The purpose of religion is to reform man so that (a) he is in a right and loving relationship with God (b) he is in a right and loving relationship with his neighbour.

And Marina hit the nail on its head by saying that this relationship is based on CONFIDENCE and trust.


Postscript: I think there can be a simple solution to avoid confusion among the Muslims:

A compromise solution that will satisfy all parties concerned would be for the Herald to put a qualifier/caveat every time it uses the word Allah (e.g. "interpreted as the triune God by Christians and distinct from the Allah referred to by Muslims").

To all bahasa-reading Christians, we must be clear that changing the word Allah to Tuhan does not change our foundational understanding of God nor our spiritual walk with Him. It is a question of religious worship and familiarity for many East Malaysians who are used for decades in calling God Allah.

Since the government banned the word, the licensing issue can only be settled by the High Court. However, the social, cultural and constitutional controversy should be discussed in interfaith dialogues to reach a mature and harmonious solution.


Anonymous Coward said...

I understand what you said in your comment on The Nut Graph but I must disagree. My understanding is that the entity that both communities -- that is, Muslims and Christians -- worship are the same but the interpretation on His attributes are different. That is the fundamental disconnect between the two communities as Muslims simply cannot accept that Jesus/Isa is divine. Such a concept is simply blasphemous and cannot be reconciled with Islamic theology. Nonetheless, it is explicitly mentioned in the Qur'an that the Christians and Muslims pray to the same entity, differences in doctrine aside.

Since The Nut Graph moderates comments and takes forever to publish them, I'm responding to you here instead and I hope that's alright.

Jeremiah said...

Ok. Thanks for sharing your view. The fact that it is explicitly mentioned in the Qur'an that Christians and Muslims pray to the same God does not make it so.

Neither does the Bible say anything that the God of Abraham, David, etc is the same God as Islam.

This kind of semantic confusion is what can lead to further confusion among naive believers who know little of others religion.

As a I said, Chrisitans believe that God is the Father who gave His Son, (which is God incarnate in human form) to be an atonement for man's sins. The Holy Spirit is with us when Jesus went to Heaven.

If Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then how can they believe in the same God unless you are saying that unknowingly worship the same God?

btw are you a born again Christian or otherwise? And why call yourself a coward?

Anonymous Coward said...

I am actually not a Christian but a Muslim. The name is in reference to the default name for commenters on a technical website, Slashdot.

"If Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then how can they believe in the same God unless you are saying that unknowingly worship the same God?"

This is a difficult question and one I don't think I can eloquently answer, but I'll give it a shot.

Muslims believe that Jesus is human and does not possess any divine attributes whatsoever and they also do not believe in the Holy Spirit. The belief is that God is one and does not possess any... sub-entities, for lack of a better word. Muslims believe that God stands on His own and that Jesus was not God incarnate but merely a messenger (albeit an important one). This is where Christian (specifically, Catholic) and Islamic doctrines differ.

I understand your point of view, actually. How can the two communities be worshiping the same God if the Muslims cannot accept the Trinity? But the Qur'an explicitly mentions that Christians and Muslims pray to the same God, but that we differ in the understanding of His attributes. This is further enforced in the Qur'an when the Christians and the Jews are honored by being referred to as the People of the Book.

In Islamic doctrine it is simply blasphemous to acknowledge that there is any other god but God. Therefore, by explicitly saying that the two communities pray to the same deity, the Qur'an reinforces the notion that regardless of the differences in doctrine the two communities worship the same deity.

I wonder if I'm actually able to convey the way I understand it to you and I apologize if it's confusing or not clear. Thanks for reading my comment.

Jeremiah said...

It is good that you can share your faith with reason and clarity.

However, both the Christians and the Muslims (and to a lesser extent Jews who do not acknowledge Christ as their saviour and are still waiting for Him to come on earth as prophesised in the Old testament), despite similarities in religious ancestry from the time of Abraham, believe in two different axioms.

An axiom is a foundational truth that is taken for granted, and serves as a starting point for deducing and inferring other truths.

From the Christian view, the understanding of the Holy trinity and the divine nature of Christ are two of the main stumbling blocks facing Muslims in their search for the one true God.

The existence of this triune God, i.e., of the Holy Trinity, pre-dated the formulation of this doctrine at Nicea (A.D. 325). The Trinity was a living reality, before the creation of the cosmos.

Ephesians 1 : 3

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him even before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.....

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession to the praise of His glory."

The Father, the Son and Holy Spirit are one God with one nature, just as water has the form of vapour when heated and ice when freezed.

Hope this helps in clarifying the Chrisitian position.

You may wish to read my older post about ascertaining the Bible's credentials at:

Allen said...

Firstly, to our Muslim friend Coward, christians and muslims do worship the same God. Remember that Ishmael was a son of Abraham. But the fact is, after the incarnation of Jesus, every human being can only worship God through Jesus.

Secondly, I won't agree with you that christians should compromise to adopt "Tuhan" in replacement of "Allah". Today you compromise one word, tomorrow you are told to compromise another. the floodgate shouldn't be opened. Compromising is poor scholarship as a Theology student. I would say that the "Allah" issue is a political issue. Just ponder for a while "why is it only happened in Malaysia?" Even the more Islamic Arabs aren't fuzzy abt the issue. What is UMNO afraid of?

Do You Want To Know God?

Do You Want To Know God?
Say this: Heavenly Father, I have sinned against You. Forgive all my sins. I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose again. I give you my life to do as You wish. I want Jesus to come into my life & heart. In Jesus's name. Amen