HISTORY OF “ALLAH” USAGE BY CHRISTIANS, WAY BEFORE MALAYSIA WAS FORMED
25 Mar 2021
By Ilona Andrew
KOTA KINABALU: The Christian community in the Nusantara (Maritime Southeast Asia) has been using the Arabic word “Allah” for “God” since the 17th century, way before Malaysia was formed, said Dr Faizal Musa.
The associate fellow of Global Sh’ia Diaspora at Weatherhead Centre, Harvard University pointed out that the Christian Bible and didactic books were written in Bahasa Melayu which consisted the word “Allah”.
The books were used by Portuguese reverends in Ambon, Maluku who used Bahasa Melayu to spread Christianity teaching to the locals, where at least 48 copies were distributed to 23 Christian villages in the area.
Faizal noted that the number was considered a lot back then, as a lot of the locals were still illiterate at that time.
“One of the most important and known translations of the gospel was the book of Genesis in 1662 which was translated by a reverend who arrived in Batavia (present-day Jakarta) on July 6, 1651.
“However, the original translation can no longer be found but the later edition of the translation was published in 1697,” he said during a webinar session which was live-streamed on think-tank Wisdom Foundation’s Facebook page, recently.
The forum – The Borneo Muslim Perspective, Bahasa Malaysia and Universal Islam – was discussed in response to the High Court ruling which allows non-Muslim to use the word “Allah”.
The webinar session was moderated by the chief operating officer of Wisdom Foundation Zila Fawzi which saw panellists Uztaz Wan Ji Wan Hussin (Founder of Pusat Pengajian Maqasid Quran), Datin Fazar Arif (Founder of Pergerakan Orang Wanita – Empowerment and Revolution), and Haji Amde Sidik (Chairman of Progressive Institute of Public Policy).
During the session, Faizal quoted nine lines from the 1697 edition of the Book of Genesis where the word “Allah” was used several times.
“This was nothing to be surprised about because in Malacca, in 1678, there was already a Christian community of the Portuguese mixed local people known as the ‘Black Christians’ which communicated and socialised in Bahasa Melayu with the Malay, Ceylonese, Javanese and Buginese people.
“Before that era, a Navarrese Catholic missionary St. Francis Xavier conducted five visits to Malacca where he instructed for the translation of the 10 Commandments in Bahasa Melayu as an effort to help the local Christians who either still practised paganism or were neglected (during the 1540s),” he explained.
The associate fellow also painted a history event of when Penang was administered by the English between 1786 to 1941, where he mentioned that a total of 708 Malay-natives were Christians, mostly Catholics, found in 1833.
“In the English era in 1843, missionary Benjamin Peach Keasberry set up a Malay Chapel at Prinsep Street where most of the residents were of Chinese-Malay descents who only knew Bahasa Melayu because even the English (colonials) spoke in Bahasa Melayu.
“Meanwhile, in Borneo Sarawak, a Eurasian-Ceylonese reverend had translated Christian prayer books to Bahasa Melayu and Iban language. In conclusion, Christianity is not new here and has established since a very long time ago,” he explained.
According to Faizal, to this day, he has not found any research made on the perception of the term “Allah” that causes confusion among the Christian community.
“In fact, there was a historical event that is not known by many where a Sultan of Johor as the Head of Islam was close with and respected by the church institution. In 1885, Sultan of Johor Abu Bakar ibni Daing Ibrahim visited the Vatican and met with Pope Leo XIII.
“One of the reasons he (Abu Bakar) was welcomed by the Vatican was because he allowed the setting up of chapels in Pontian, Johor and Ayer Hitam, Kedah in 1867. And in 1882, he gifted a piece of land to a priest for the establishment of a church which officially opened on May 29, 1883,” he described.
Apart from Christianity teaching, Faizal remarked that the Buddhist conveyed its teaching in Bahasa Melayu during the pre-Islamic era in Palembang where the word “Allah” was also used.
“Renowned Buddhist figures during the Sriwijaya period preached and spread the teaching of Buddha using Bahasa Melayu, so that time the Malays in Palembang had already communicated in Bahasa Melayu.
“In fact, there were other religious teachings aside from Islam that were spread using Bahasa Melayu and research on this has been done by many scholars such as Professor Shaharir Mohamad Zain,” he said, adding that Sikhism was also among the religious teachings that used ‘Allah’ in its scriptures since late 19th Century.