Archive for January, 2014

Feeding the Mouth that Bites You

January 17, 2014

Below are a couple of screen caps from pro-opposition portal The Malaysian Insider. Since kangkung-gate erupted a few days ago, they’ve really gone to town gleefully playing up the issue. Of course, this is nothing new nor surprising. What I really wanted to highlight are the bits circled in yellow.




God of gods

January 11, 2014

… is a phrase that appears in the English bible several times, but the Malay equivalent doesn’t appear even once in the BSM Malay translation. Why? Well, probably because it can’t do so without sounding ridiculous. Such is the bind Malaysian Christians find themselves in because of their insistence on using “Allah” for “God” in Malay.

Ask any Malay speaking person to translate “God of gods” into Malay, and they will say “Tuhan segala tuhan”. Simple, isn’t it? Except that for the Malay speaking Christian it isn’t so simple. They can’t say “Allah segala allah” because “allah” with the lower case ‘a’ doesn’t exist in the Malay language. Although the Indonesian bible does use “allah” for “god”as well as “gods”, the Malay bible published by the BSM doesn’t.

In the BSM bible, “Allah” always appears with a capital ‘A’ and never in the plural. This seems to be tacit acknowledgment that, unlike what some Christian apologists claim, “Allah” in Malay is not a generic term for “God” but a proper noun referring to the one God as used by the Muslims.

The BSM Malay bible was first published in 1996, which is after the “Allah” issue first arose. So, we can probably guess at their intention for moving away from the Indonesian way of translating God and Lord.

If you look at how various instances and permutations of lord and god in the bible are translated into Malay in the BSM bible, you find a somewhat consistent pattern:

God -> Allah
god -> tuhan
gods -> tuhan-tuhan
lord  -> tuan (sometimes “raja” depending on the context)

Now, if we follow the above schema, then “God of gods” should be “Allah segala tuhan”. This sounds somewhat comical, doesn’t it? Which is probably why the BSM doesn’t use the phrase. But wait, it gets worse. Look up Deuteronomy 10:17 and you’ll find:

For the LORD your God [is] God of gods, and LORD of LORDs, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth  not persons, nor taketh reward.

There are Lords and Gods everywhere. How on Earth are they going to translate this? “Allah segala tuhan, dan TUHAN segala tuan” would sound patently absurd. Well, here’s the translation in the BSM bible:

TUHAN, Allah kamu itu berkuasa atas semua tuhan lain dan semua kekuasaan. Dia agung dan berkuasa, dan Dia harus ditaati. Dia tidak berat sebelah dan tidak menerima rasuah.

So, “God of gods” becomes “berkuasa atas semua tuhan lain” and “LORD of lords” has been relegated to “dan semua kekuasaan”.

One test that is frequently used to check the quality of a translation is to translate the translation back into the original language. In a good translation, even if the exact words could not be recreated, at least the original meaning should be retained. Apply this test to the above. Would you say that it is a good translation?

It would be harsh to say that the translators took the easy way out or were sloppy here. I’m sure they agonized long and hard over it. Having painted themselves into a corner because of the way they chose to translate God, this is probably the best they could have come up with.

Edit: 6.30  pm , 15 Jan, 2014

For comparison, below is how the phrase “God of gods and Lord of lords” appears in the bibles of some other languages:

Latin: Deus deorum et Dominus dominantium

Hebrew: Elohei  ha’elohim   v’adonei ha’adonim

Greek: theos tōn theōn kai kurios tōn kuriōn

German: Gott der Götter und der Herr der Herren

Dutch: een God der goden, en een Heere der heren

French: le Dieu des dieux et le Seigneur des seigneurs

I hope you can see the pattern in all of the above, a pattern that the BSM Malay bible does not follow.

Building Bridges

January 5, 2014

Muslims should work together with Hindus and Buddhists against a common threat: Christian Evangelism.

Although the Allah issue has been grabbing all the headlines, the fact is that it is the Hindus, Buddhists and other non-Christian minorities that have been most adversely affected by the activities of the Christian evangelists. Faced with an enemy that is sophisticated, well funded and not averse to modifying its message for maximum impact, their numbers are dwindling.

The Malaysia Hindu Sangam, for example, has been fighting for decades to stop Christian evangelists from aggressively targeting Hindus for conversion. Their repeated appeals to Christian organizations that are fellow MCCBCHST members have apparently fallen on deaf ears. Below are excerpts of a letter written by former MHS and MCCBCHST President A Vaithilingam just recently:

Let me take you all back to 1983 when we gathered at Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall. The Christians were then on an aggressive campaign of converting Hinduism with lies and ridicule of Hinduism. They included the Evangelists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Tamil Methodist Church and others. Film actors and recently converted paid fanatics were brought in to this country to spread lies and falsehood about our religion. But the effect of the Rally in 1983 was great: the Hindus arose and with the support of Government official these liars had to return home. House to House campaign was conducted by Hindus. More religious training programmes were held. Youths rose up, conversions were reduced and we all became more aware. We are NOW faced with the similar situation again.

Today the conversion band of Christians are out again. Now the situation is quite different. Evangelists are setting up churches in villages and streets. Nothing wrong in that, but, they have now local Pastors who talk about devil being in you when their God is not in you as though they have cured all their followers in the world! Why are their own kind dying everyday? Hindus must not be taken for a ride by such sentiments. Hospital visits are made by these Pastors especially looking out for ‘death bed’ patients. They attempt to touch the hearts of those in the non Christian family in this venture of death bed conversion!

We in the MCCBCHST have stood by together in all our difficulties. This is also happening to other non Christian members in the Majlis. I suggest that that the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) make a study of our complaints and that they themselves take the necessary action to prevent these excesses.

They talk of the devious and unethical methods used by the Christians to propagate their religion. They are rightfully proud of their diligence in defending Hinduism. Yet when Muslims act to protect their religion from the very same threat, they say no, this is wrong. Why is that?

The reason is that the Christians have successfully framed the argument as one of the Muslim majority persecuting the non-Muslim minority. The Muslim cause has undoubtedly not been helped by the boorish and insensitive actions of some who purport to act on behalf of Islam in the past. Incidents like the cow head demonstration, use of derogatory terms to refer to Hindus, body snatching and temple demolitions have only served to push Hindus and other religious minorities away. The irony of this is that the greatest threat to Hinduism in Malaysia today is not the Muslims, but the Christians. While highly emotive, the above incidences are fairly isolated and in reality affect only a small number of people. The impact of unbridled Christian proselytisation on other non-Muslim, non-Christian communities is far, far greater.

Muslim organizations must reach out to their counterparts of other faiths in pursuing a common cause. They must make it clear that the issue is only about protecting their faith from aggressive outsiders and that they have no interest in stopping others from practising their own faiths.

Contextualization in Action

January 3, 2014

Go to 3:30 of this clip. Listen to the Evangelist’s story about their work in Sumatra.

And they say using the word “Allah” has nothing to do with preaching to Muslims. My foot.