MUMBAI, India, July 6 (Compass direct News) – With the Kuala Lumpur High Court in Malaysia scheduled to determine the legality of the word “Allah” in non-Muslim literature tomorrow, what is at stake goes beyond the sanctioned name for God among non-Muslims in the majority-Muslim nation.
Such a limit on free speech in Malaysia is especially biting for Muslim converts to Christianity; already the Malaysian government does not recognize their conversions and marriages and still considers their offspring to be legally Muslim. With non-Muslims increasingly feeling the sting of discrimination and Muslim elites feeling a need to assert a national Islamic identity, the skirmish over “Allah” is clearly part of a greater cultural war.
Malaysian authorities and Malaysia’s Roman Catholic Church have continued to lock horns over use of the word “Allah” in the Malay-language edition of the Herald, the church’s newspaper, as they await the ruling. The newspaper had been allowed to use the term until a final court decision, but the Kuala Lumpur High Court on May 30 overturned that brief reprieve.
The Catholic newspaper has provided a panoply of historical uses of “Allah” among Christians in Malaysia. The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, quotes examples from a Malay-Latin dictionary dated 1631, and the Dutch-Malay Dictionary of 1650 lists “Allah” as the vernacular translation for God.
“This is testified by the fact that we have a Malay-Latin Dictionary printed in 1631, in which the word ‘Allah’ is cited,” Andrew said. “To have a word in a dictionary means that that particular word has already been in use in the community prior to the dictionary. The word for ‘God’ in Latin is ‘Deus’ and in Malay, it is ‘Allah.’ Upon the arrival of the Dutch…a Dutch-Malay Dictionary was produced in 1650 where the word for ‘God’ in Dutch was ‘Godt,’ and in Malay, ‘Allah.’”
According to church sources, the Malay term for “God,” Tuhan, came into vogue only after deadly May 13, 1969 communal riots as part of a national unity campaign.
Andrew noted that “Allah” is an Arabic term derived from the same roots as the Hebrew Elohim, and that the word pre-dates Muhammad, Islam’s prophet. Besides ignoring history, Andrew says, the government also conveniently ignores its universal use among Christians in the Middle East.
“Since the status quo remains, we will not use the word ‘Allah’ in our publication” until the court says otherwise, Andrew said. “In fact we have not been using it since our January edition.”
Since 1970, the government of Malaysia has consistently championed Islam as a parallel source of identity and nationalism among the politically dominant Malay-Muslim majority. Dress codes, cultural norms and the Malay language underwent a rapid Islamization in tandem with discriminative actions against minority groups.
Christians were particularly hard-hit by the effort in the name of national unity. Licences are rarely issued for church buildings in the capital city, Kuala Lumpur. New evangelical congregations had to meet at either hotels or warehouses for their Sunday services while Islamic semiotics and terminologies swamped the intellectual and official discourse. Conversion of Christians to Islam were particularly trumpeted by the media.
These efforts have largely failed. Local churches continued to grow, and the number of secret Muslim converts to Christianity began to rise.
At the same time, pandemic corruption and political authoritarianism have gradually led to a sense of disenchantment with political Islam among many. This erosion in Malay-Islam dominance has led to political bankruptcy, as evidenced by disastrous results for the ruling coalition during March 2008 general elections.
Given these political realities, Malay elites believe they can ill afford to be seen as soft on minority “encroachment,” and observers say this need to ingratiate Islamists lies at the root of the tussle over non-Muslim use of the word “Allah.” Officially, however, the government says only that use of the word among non-Muslims could create “confusion” among Muslims.
The Herald has a circulation of 13,000 and an estimated readership of 50,000. The newspaper is sold in Catholic churches and is not available from newsstands.
Malaysia’s population is about 60 percent Muslim, 19 percent Buddhist and 9 percent Christian. About 6 percent are Hindu, with 2.6 percent of the population adhering to Confucianism, Taoism and other traditional Chinese religions.
Arabicization of Malay Language
The debate over “Allah” follows an effort by the government to promote the Arabicization of the Malay language at the expense of Sanskrit and Malay terms. When a Malaysian student has to refer to a pig in an essay or test, the required term is the Arabic khinzir.
Other Malay terms such as pokok (tree) and bunga (flower), long used to refer to loan principal and interest respectively, have been expunged from school texts in favor of the Arabic kaedah (base) and faedah (benefit).
Some sources indicate that the Arabicization of the Malay language, however, has come with unintended consequences, such as making Christian mission work and translation easier. Since the Malay vocabulary has its limitations, Christians can use time-tested Arabic-derived terms to provide meaningful context.
For a long time, the only Malay Bible available in Malaysia was the Indonesian “Al Kitab,” which, included the word “Allah.” As Bahasa Malaysia (official name of the Malay language in Malaysia) and Bahasa Indonesia are very similar, the “Al Kitab” can be easily understood by a native speaker of Malay. As a result, the “Al Kitab” was viewed as an unwelcome missionary tool by Malaysian authorities. Its legal status was heatedly contested behind closed doors during the 1981-2003 reign of then-Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad.
Significant Christian indigenous populations in East Malaysia use Bahasa Malaysia as a language of wider communication. The Malay-language content of the Herald reportedly serves just that need: using the national language with universal terms across a multi-lingual Babel of tribal Catholic communities in East Malaysia.
Report from Compass Direct News
ISTANBUL, June 16 (Compass Direct News) – Egyptian news sources report security forces have wrongly detained two Christians for nearly a month as part of a ruse to cast a Muslim attack on Copts as “sectarian violence.”
Violence broke out last month in the village of Toma, near El-Mahalla El-Kubra in the middle of the Nile Delta, when local Muslims attacked Copts who had rescued Nermeen Mitry, 16; Muslims had kidnapped the Coptic girl and tried to convert her to Islam, according to Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).
Some 150 Muslims attacked five of Mitry’s family members as they drove home to their village following her rescue after the May 21 kidnapping. Police arrested 14 Muslims and 11 Copts. In the course of the violence, a carton recycling warehouse owned by her father was burned down.
Most of the perpetrators have been released, Copts said, while two Muslims and two randomly selected Copts are still detained – a ruse to disguise the one-sided nature of the attack and to keep both sides from causing further disturbances. Hany Haziz, a local watchmaker who participated in reconciliation meetings, asserted that the Minister of Interior ordered the detentions for 45 days to create a false sense of symmetrical “community strife,” according to Coptic News Bulletin.
Coptic activists concurred that the state uses arrests of Copts when Muslims instigate sectarian violence to create a false sense of equivalence.
“This was a balance game; the security services play this every single instance,” said Helmy Guirguis, president of the U.K. Coptic Association. “They must take an equal number, and sometimes they snatch people on the street.”
International and Egyptian news agencies quoted state security forces saying that Mitry was engaged to local Muslim youth Hossam Hamouda, and that their relationship resulted in fierce clashes in the village of 2,000 people.
In addition, a report on Thursday (June 11) from the Egyptian Association for Democracy included quotes from local Muslims who repeated the statements of state security forces. But the authors of the report were not allowed to interview Mitry’s sister.
Some Copts, however, said that Muslim residents of Toma were angry that the kidnapping and attempted forcible conversion of Mitry had failed, as the perpetrators stood to earn money from Islamic groups that pay substantial sums for such conversions.
“The Muslims were angry that the girl escaped Islamization,” an Egyptian journalist told Compass. “There is a lot of money involved in Islamization of Coptic girls, as much as thousands of U.S. dollars, funded mainly by Saudi Arabia and Gulf states.”
Kidnap Victim’s Account
Mitry told the Free-Copts Organization that she was drugged by a Muslim friend and kidnapped, according to AINA.
When she awoke, she was in a house in Zagazig, a city in the eastern Nile Delta, and a bearded Muslim man was trying to convert her to Islam. He was later found to be Essam Abu Deiof Hamoud, a relative of the girl who allegedly drugged Mitry.
“The man was very confident and told me that I would be the fourth Coptic girl to ‘know the true Allah’ and convert to Islam through him,” Mitry told Free-Copts, according to AINA. “I told him, ‘I am engaged to be married when I come of age, and would never convert to Islam,’ as this would be a catastrophe for me. He did his best to make me change my mind.”
One of the abductor’s family members, who knew Mitry’s family, contacted them and told them her whereabouts. Her family came to rescue her from Hamoud.
Police told the family to bring her to the state security directorate, but because they distrusted government forces they instead brought her to the Coptic St. Demiana Convent northeast of Cairo. Egyptian authorities have been known to return Coptic girls to their Muslim kidnappers and summarily close cases.
At press time Mitry was still in the convent waiting until tensions diffuse in Toma. Some Christian advocates believe Copts will arrange a marriage for her before she returns to the village to make her less susceptible to a future kidnapping.
Until then, reconciliation meetings between Copts and Muslims continue under the auspices of the police. No Christian clergy are present.
Such meetings are somewhat customary in Egypt, in which different parties come together to settle legal matters out of court. They carry a social purpose of restoring faith and communal harmony in the face of sectarian tensions. But advocacy groups worry when meetings go beyond easing community tensions and act as a substitute for administrative justice and proper investigation.
Rights groups say that Mitry’s kidnapping is a small part of a larger campaign to rid Egypt of its Coptic element through pressuring conversions or otherwise erasing Christianity in the country.
That campaign includes a recent official decree by the Justice Ministry stating that Abu Hennes, one of Egypt’s few completely Coptic cities, would be renamed Wadi al-Neinaa (Mint Valley). The city’s Coptic legacy dates back to the fourth century, and the site is symbolically important as it is believed to have received Mary, Joseph, and Jesus after their flight from Israel.
On Thursday (June 11), thousands of Copts protested the attempted name change, according to Egyptian Christian weekly Watani. Similar demonstrations occurred in 1979 when former President Anwar Sadat also attempted a name change. In the face of protests, he ultimately backed down.
Report from Compass Direct News
In a brochure on ‘2009 Lenten Meditations’ put out by the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC), Jesus is portrayed as a recovering racist, reports John-Henry Westen, LifeSiteNews.com.
The brochure’s reading for March 27 is taken from Matthew 15, which relates the familiar story in which Jesus has a discussion with a Canaanite woman. According to the ACoC, “This is not a story for people who need to think that Jesus always had it together, because it looks like we’ve caught him being mean to a lady because of her ethnicity.”
The brochure quotes the Bible passage Matthew 15 22-27 (citing it incorrectly as Matthew 14), which reads: “a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ “
The brochure meditation on the passage says of Christ: “At first, he ignores her cries. Then he refuses to help her and compares her people to dogs.”
The meditation continues: “But she challenges his prejudice. And he listens to her challenge and grows in response to it. He ends up healing her daughter. What we may have here is an important moment of self discovery in Jesus’ life, an enlargement of what it will mean to be who he was. Maybe we are seeing Jesus understand his universality for the first time.”
More traditional Anglicans, however, did not take kindly to the suggestion that Christ was a cruel racist whose “prejudices” were “challenged” by the Canaanite woman.
Bishop Carl Reid of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, a traditional Anglican group which separated over 30 years ago from the ACoC, explained to LifeSiteNews.com that the translation of words and the context must be taken into account for a proper understanding of the passage.
“The Greek word that is used for ‘dog’ in the passage, is actually a different from that of another word used as an insult for non-Jews in those times,” he said. The word used in Matthew 15 refers to a “puppy or family pet” rather than the insulting term said Bishop Reid. “The significance (of Christ’s selection of words) would not have been lost on the woman because it would not have been caught as a rebuff.”
Rather than an indication of Christ’s racism, the passage has always been interpreted by Christians as a test of the Canannite woman’s faith and an example to the Pharisees who were present and unbelieving. The text is often cited as an encouragement to perseverance in prayers of petition.
Notably, the ACoC brochure leaves out the most important line of the passage: “Then Jesus answering, said to her: O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt: and her daughter was cured from that hour.”
In recent years the ACoC has been rocked with splits, in large part due to the fact that the hierarchy has attempted to force priests to engage in official blessings of homosexual partnerships. As a consequence, some Anglican churches in the country have sought Episcopal oversight from more traditional wings of the Anglican Church.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Uganda’s army is accusing rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army of hacking to death 45 civilians in a Catholic church in the Democratic Republic of Congo, reports Michael Ireland, chief correspondent, ASSIST News Service.
A story on the BBC website quotes Ugandan Army Capt Chris Magezi who said the scene was “horrendous… dead bodies of mostly women and children cut in pieces.” The attack happened on December 26.
A rebel spokesman has denied responsibility for the killings, which follow a collapse in the peace process, the BBC said.
It also reports the UN saying that at least 189 people were killed in several attacks last week. Some reports say more than 100 people were killed in the church alone.
The BBC said the armies of Uganda, South Sudan and DR Congo carried out a joint offensive against the rebels in mid-December after LRA leader Joseph Kony again refused to sign a peace deal.
The BBC reported the LRA leader, who has lived in a jungle hideout in north-eastern DR Congo for the last few years, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It also says Uganda’s government had been involved in lengthy peace negotiations with the LRA, hosted by the South Sudanese government. But LRA leader Kony has demanded that arrest warrants for him and his associates be dropped before any agreement can be struck.
Meanwhile, the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo says one of its troops accidently shot and killed a Ugandan soldier in the nearby town of Dungu.
The BBC said that aid officials requesting anonymity near Doruma, which is about 40km from the border with South Sudan, confirmed to Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper and to the AFP (Agence France Presse) news agency that the massacre had taken place.
“Bodies of the women and children, with deep cuts are littered inside and outside the church,” an aid official told The Monitor.
Witness Abel Longi told The Associated Press (AP) news agency that he recognized the LRA rebels by their dreadlocked hair, their Acholi language and the number of young boys among them.
“I hid in bush near the church and heard people wailing as they were being cut with machetes,” he said.
However, LRA spokesman David Nekorach Matsanga has denied that the rebels are behind the killings, the BBC reported.
“Reports about the LRA killing innocent civilians is another propaganda campaign by the Uganda army,” he said.
“I have it on good authority from the field commanders that the LRA is not in those areas where the killings are reported to have taken place.” He said the massacre may have been carried out by Ugandan soldiers.
“They want to justify their stay in DRC [Congo] and loot minerals from there like they did before,” he told the AP.
The BBC reports that Capt Magezi said that on Saturday the army had killed 13 of the rebels behind the alleged attack and were pursuing the rest of the group.
The UN’s humanitarian agency Ocha says 40 people were killed in attacks in DR Congo’s Faradje district, 89 around Doruma and 60 in the Gurba area, according to the BBC report.
The BBC story also says that many thousands of Congolese villagers fled their homes after LRA attacks near Dungu in October.
It explains that countries from Uganda to the Central African Republic have suffered 20 years of terror inflicted by the LRA. Tens of thousands of children have been abducted to be fighters and sex slaves.
Uganda’s government said the joint offensive had destroyed some 70 percent of the LRA camps in DR Congo.
The BBC’s Africa analyst, Martin Plaut, says that LRA leader Kony’s force is relatively small, about 650 strong. However, the difficulty is that when it is hit, it scatters and then regroups.
Report from the Christian Telegraph