The misunderstood East Malaysian Christians

Erna Mahyuni, The Malay Mail

Years ago, I wrote a column asking “Why is your Allah not my Allah?” I have a small confession; the column was not, as many think, written for Muslims.

It was written for ignorant West Malaysian Christians, many of whom think that the Church should give up fighting for the right to use “Allah.”

And it is hard not to feel angry and somewhat anguished to hear Christians from the Peninsula say things like:

“Let them (the Malays) have it-lah. We don’t need it, what.”

“Allah is a pagan word, used by Arab infidels.”

“Why should Christians use Arabic in their prayers? What’s wrong with English?”

“Who goes to Bahasa Malaysia services anyway? Why have them? Looking for trouble only!”

These are not Muslims saying these things. These are Christians, people who, like Sabahans and Sarawakian Christians, profess to believe in the Bible, in Jesus Christ as saviour and to whom the Church is a revered institution.

If it were up to these people, the Church in Malaysia should just do as it has done for many years. Keep quiet. Be meek, comply, don’t rock the boat. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to the flock, keep it safe by staying out of “worldly affairs.”

Weren’t we taught to turn the other cheek, these Christians say? Shouldn’t we just abide by the court’s ruling?

And I suppose I shouldn’t be angry. But I am. Because this ignorance, this lack of effort in understanding the issue and finding out just why East Malaysians are angry, is probably part of the reason this whole debacle exists.

Christianity in East Malaysia has a long history, and what many people do not realise is that the natives have long trafficked with missionaries, who met tribal folk who communicated with each other about God not in English but in their native tongues.

In Malaysia, Christianity is seen as a “white man’s religion” when for East Malaysian natives, it is anything but. And how did Allah become a word in the Al-Kitab? It is because it is but a name for God, but used in a special context.

Allah, Bapa. God, our father.

It is not the same as saying, Tuhan, Bapa.

Allah was used by Christians in East Malaysia long before Malays knew Islam. And that is the simple truth, no matter how much Perkasa will deny it.

Before Islam came, Judaism and Christianity had existed in the Middle East. In the Prophet’s time, the Arabic Jews and Christians called God “Allah.”

Should Perkasa now move to Syria, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries and insist the Jews and Christians there stop using Allah too? They would be laughed at, they should be laughed at, but here we take those ignorant, bigoted clowns seriously.

Now some straight talk about that big elephant in the room: preaching the Word to Muslims.

Proselytisation and religion go hand-in-hand. Unlike Judaism, which considers itself a special club that requires you to be literally born into it, Christianity and Islam both draw their strength from propagation. Both religions have had incidences of forced, violent coercion but in an age where we are more “evolved” as human beings, that should no longer be the case.

But that fear of being “coaxed” into another faith still lingers. Rationally speaking, you cannot “force” someone into believing. Because that is not the nature of faith.