By Debra Chong (Malaysia Insider)
KUALA LUMPUR, March 10 — Allah is not the only word banned by the Home Ministry from use by non-Muslims.
The Malaysian Insider recently obtained a copy of two letters sent out in 1986 by the ministry through its publishing division and addressed to the Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM).
It lays down a laundry list of words the federal government claimed — and still claims — are sensitive to Muslims who make up the biggest group in multi-religious Malaysia.
The first letter was dated April 1, 1986 and was undersigned by one Tengku Ali Tengku Chik on behalf of the secretary-general of the home ministry, better known by its initials in Bahasa Malaysia, KDN (Kementerian Dalam Negeri).
Tengku Ali wrote: “I am instructed to inform that this Ministry is concerned with the use of Islamic phrases in the translated Bible (Bahasa Malaysia) in which use of those words could confuse followers of the two religions. For example, ‘Tuhan’ is translated as ‘Allah’ in which the term has been used in the religion of Islam and have always been mentioned in the religion of Christianity as ‘God’ or ‘Tuhan’ only.
“Therefore, the Ministry requests your cooperation to refrain from using those words considered sensitive. As a guide, a copy of Appendix A is attached with suggested phrases for your use when translating into Bahasa Malaysia. Other terms, if any, will be told later,” he added.
“For your information, recently the Ministry had similarly chided a publication in Sabah, that is ‘Catholic Sabah’ to stop from using those confusing words when making translations,” he highlighted.
The appendix listed 16 words that were considered “sensitive to Muslims” and came out with their replacement without apparently consulting the CCM beforehand. They are:
“Al-Kitab” to be replaced with “Baibel (Bible)”.
“Allah” to be replaced with “Tuhan (God)”.
“Firman” to be replaced with “Berkata (Say)”.
“Rasul” to be replaced with “Utusan (Massanger – sic)”.
“Syariat” to be replaced with “Ajaran”.
“Iman” to be replaced with “Percaya (believe)”.
“Kaabah” with no suggested replacement.
“Ibadah” to be replaced with “Amalan (worship)”.
“Injil” to be replaced with “Baibel/ Bible”
“Wahyu” to be replaced with “Revelasi”.
“Nabi” to be replaced with “Propet”.
“Syukur” to be replaced with “Terima kasih”.
“Zikir” to be replaced with “Mengingatkan/ Menyebut”.
“Solat” to be replaced with “Sembahyang”.
“Doa” to be replaced with “Memohon”.
The ministry’s instructions do not stop there. In a separate column, it also notes the whys behind the ban.
“Maksud Al-Kitab ialah Al-Quran. Oleh itu istilah nama ini tidak boleh digunakan (The meaning of Al-Kitab is Al-Quran. Therefore the term cannot be used.)
“Firman ialah kata-kata mulia khusus bagi Allah sahaja (Firman is a specific noble word for Allah only).
“Rasul ialah nama panggilan kepada Utusan Allah yang disebut dalan Quran. Nama Jesus Kristas tidak disebut di dalam Al-Quran (Rasul is a name for Allah’s Messenger as mentioned in the Quran. The name Jesus Christ is not mentioned in the Quran).
“Syariat dikhaskan kepada Ugama Allah sahaja (Syariat is specially for the religion of Allah only).
“Injil yang sah sudah tidak ada masa ini (A legitimate Injil no longer exists).
The ministry noted there were no replacement words for “wahyu” and stated that only the word “revelasi” could be used.
The curt tone adopted in the letter appeared to suggest a superiority complex towards the practitioners of religions other than Islam, in particular, Christians who are considered by Muslims elsewhere in the world as fellow Children of the Book with a shared history.
The home ministry letter also claimed that the “Injil” no longer exists because the Muslim understanding of it is limited to the Old Testament; for Christians, the focus of their religion is in the teachings of Jesus Christ which forms the New Testament
The apparent arrogance was summed up in the afterword to the appendix, which ironically is sub-headlined “Panduan Umum” or general guide.
“Bible ditulis dalam Bahasa Inggeris (dan Bahasa Latin Romawi). Bahasa rasmi Agama Kristian ialah Bahasa Inggeris (dan Bahasa Latin Romawi). Jadi ‘Bible’ hendaklah ditulis dan disebarkan dalam Bahasa Inggeris (atau Latin). Jangan gunakan sedikitpun Bahasa Arab dalam Bible kerana Bahasa Arab adalah bahasa rasmi Agama Islam. Menggunakan Bahasa Arab
dalam ‘Bible’ boleh mengelirukan dan mempengaruhi orang Islam kepada Agama Kristian. [Bible is written in the English language (and in Roman Latin). The official language for the Christian religion is English (or Roman Latin). So ‘Bible’ must be written and disseminated in English (or Latin). Do not use even a little bit of Arabic in the Bible because Arabic is the official language of the religion of Islam. Using Arabic in the Bible can confuse and influence Muslims to Christian religion.]”
In that brief paragraph, the home ministry also explained the real reason why words of an Arabic origin are “exclusive” to Islam.
It also appeared to have seen fit to decide, on behalf of both Muslims and Christians, how they should each practice their respective religions although the Federal Constitution states the Malay monarchs hold sway over Islamic practices in their own states.
The Federal Constitution also states Malaysians who are not Muslim are free to practise their own faith, which most would sensibly understand that their religions are not subject to Islamic interpretations.
Eight months later, the ministry sent out another letter, this time addressed to Christian publications.
This time, it was undersigned by one Hassan Jantan on behalf of the ministry’s secretary-general. A copy of the letter was also forwarded to the police Special Branch director at Bukit Aman.
Dated December 5, 1986, the letter refers to a “confusion” that has happened within the community over the use of “Islamic words” used in the Bahasa Malaysia edition of Christian publications.
The letter then states the federal government had decided to allow Christian publications to use 12 words — from the original list of 18 banned words — on the condition that the books or pamphlets to be distributed or sold carry the word “For Christians” on the front cover.
The 12 Arabic-origin words allowed for use are: “Al-Kitab, Firman, Rasul, Syariat, Iman, Ibadah, Injil, Wahyu, Nabi, Syukur, Zikir, Doa”.
The ministry remained unconverted on four other words: “Kaabah”, “Batitullah”, “Solat” and “Allah”.
This time, the ministry did not give a point-by-point explanation on why certain words could now be used.
Instead, the letter said the federal government had relaxed its stand “only to preserve public peace and avoid misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians”.
At the same time, it reminded the Christian publications that the state Islamic councils had the power to decide on all Islamic affairs in their respective states, which is redundant because that fact is already laid down in the Federal Constitution and the Christian publications had no tried to impose their views or rules of their beliefs on anyone who was not a Christian, let alone a Muslim.
The ongoing dispute pitting Muslims and Christians has been raging these past 20 years behind closed doors without the public being any wiser until the churches, seeing no other avenue to have their case heard by a neutral panel was forced to take it up with the court.
It has been reported that the National Fatwa Council, which oversees the practice of Islam throughout the country but has no authority over the practice of other religions, had suddenly in 1982 declared certain words, including “Allah” as exclusive to the religion of Islam.
But “Allah” is the only word the Christian churches are seeking to use. They have not laid any claims on “Baitullah”, “solat”, or “Kaabah”, church officials say.
They argued that then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Cabinet issued an order which has effectively curtailed the freedom of non-Muslims in the practice of their religions.