The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Is ‘Allah’ exclusively for Muslims?

Malaysian Christians face religious freedom issue

Christians have been using the word ‘Allah’ for 2,000 years even before the advent of Islam. If we, the Arab Christians, can use the word ‘Allah’ in the heart of the Muslim and Arab world, peacefully and without any controversy, it is very difficult for me to understand why Malaysian Christians cannot use it. 

Munib Younan, Lutheran World Federation president and bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, in a Nov. 5, 2013, letter to Lutheran Church in Malaysia Bishop Aaron Yap and other leaders. 

On Jan. 2 the Selangor [Malaysia] State Islamic Department seized more than 300 Malay and Iban-language Bibles during a raid of the Bible Society of Malaysia’s offices — an action that drew protests from Christians and those of other faiths in Malaysia and the U.S.

At issue is who can use Allah, the Arabic word for God. In Malaysia and other countries where the local language is infused with Arabic words, Lutheran and other Christian communities have always used Allah to mean God.

ELCA stands with them

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton wrote Feb. 5 to the Council of Churches in Malaysia, saying the ELCA “stands with the Christian community in Malaysia and together with all Malaysian citizens who stand for justice and freedom of religious belief and expression.” 

The Al-Kitab (Bible) seizures and threats by extremists are a “blatant and aggressive attack on the moral and multicultural fabric of Malaysian society,” Eaton wrote. That the confiscation violates the religious freedom provided by the Malaysian constitution is “particularly disturbing,” she added.   

Eaton said the “actions, aided and abetted by the police, are further breaches of the Malaysian government’s 10-point solution announced in April 2011, which stated that Christians can import, print and distribute the Al-Kitab under certain conditions, all of which have been complied with by [the Bible Society of Malaysia].” 

Lutheran indigenous people are the most affected by the confiscations, said Philip Lok, ELCA regional representative for Southeast Asia and China and former bishop of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia.

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February issue


Embracing diversity