Monday, January 18, 2010

Attacks on Churches in Malaysia

The other day, a friend and I were discussing the recent attacks on churches in Malaysia. It seems that the dispute is one of language. A Christian organization got itself into some trouble for using the term "Allah" in Malay when referring to God. This is a big no-no. All of the Christian groups I know in Malaysia and Indonesia use the term Tuhan (equivalent of Lord), as "Allah" in the Malay language is used exclusively for the Islamic God.

I am a bit torn on this issue. I would like to think that no one has a monopoly on any language or any word — that words and language belong to all in the community of its users, if they belong to anyone, and that the entire community has a right to shape the way the language is used. I really would like to believe that, in theory.

On the other hand....

The reality is that there is another option for the Christian workers in Malaysia. They can use the term used by pretty much everyone else in the Malay-speaking Christian community, Tuhan. When they know that the use of "Allah" is both offensive and illegal, why not use the alternative term and keep the peace?

It's not an easy issue to settle, and I am saddened by the turmoil it's stirred up. I understand 9 churches have now been attacked. What a pity.

Who says there's nothing in a name?

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