Hornbill Unleashed

January 27, 2013

An appeal to the Christian community, drop ‘Allah’

BS Poh

This is an appeal to the Christian community in Malaysia to drop the use of “Allah” in the Alkitab. Before you become defensive and/or offensive please read through my reasons.

The first reason is a biblical one. Christians are called upon to live in peace with all men (Rom. 12:18; 1 Tim. 2:2; Titus 3:2).

The unabated provocations against the minority Christians in this country call for restraint and calm on our part.

We are to repay no one evil for evil. We are not to avenge ourselves. We are to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:17-21). We have already won the legal battle for the use of ‘Allah’.


The law courts have declared that we have the right to use the word. No language is the prerogative of any ethnic group.

A language may not be compared to a borrowed car, in which the rights belong to the owner. Rather, a language is public domain.

The Scots, the Welsh, and the Irish have as much right to use the English language as the English people.

The late Steve Jobs had the right to call his computer the Apple. Malaysians have the right to develop and speak Manglish.

Shouldering one’s responsibilities

It is one thing to hold to religious convictions, it is another to uphold the rule of law.

The onus is upon the law-makers and the law-makers-to-be to prove that they are capable of rising above themselves to uphold the rule of law. Otherwise, why should they be made law-makers?

NONEThe second reason is a linguistic one. In Arabic, ‘Allaah’ is derived from the common noun ‘ilaah’ in a similar way that ‘God’ is derived from ‘god’ in English.

In the Malay language, however, ‘Allah’ is adopted from Arabic while the corresponding generic word ‘ilah’ has not been similarly adopted.

In the Malaysian context, ‘Allah’ is the personal name of the god of Islam. The generic word for ‘god’ is ‘tuhan’, and not ‘ilah’.

The early Christian missionaries to South-East Asia translated ‘God’ as ‘Allah’ only because they wanted to retain the word ‘Tuhan’ for ‘Lord’.

Almighty in various terms

I have proposed that we use ‘Tuhan’ for ‘God’ (Hebrew, ‘Elohim’; Greek, ‘Theos’), and ‘Yamtuan’ for ‘Lord’ (Hebrew, ‘YHWH’; Greek, ‘Kurios’).

The word ‘Yamtuan’ is of Minangkabau origin and has been absorbed into the Malay language. It carries the meaning of ‘Yang Dipertuan’ or ‘Baginda’, i.e. ‘the highest Lord’ or ‘his Majesty’ in English.

‘Yamtuan’ is a dual-syllable word which would not be confused with ‘Tuhan’ when they are used together.

Using ‘Tuan’, meaning ‘Lord’ or ‘Sir’ will cause confusion when used with ‘Tuhan’ as the two words sound similar when spoken.

Furthermore, ‘Yamtuan’ rhymes with ‘Tuhan’, which makes for easy amendment of existing Malay hymns.

Consider this Sunday School song in Indonesian (sung to the tune of ‘Clamentine’):

Yesus Kristus, Anak Allah,
Mati bangkit semula;
Yesus Kristus Juruselamat,
Bertobatlah, percaya.

Puji Tuhan, puji Tuhan,
Kami tetap puji Dia;
Tak peduli apa jua,
Tantangan dan derita.

Translated into Malay using the terms suggested, we have:

Yesus Kristus, Anak Tuhan,
Mati bangkit semula;
Yesus Kristus Penyelamat,
Bertobatlah, percaya.
Puji Yamtuan, puji Yamtuan,
Kami tetap puji Dia;
Tidak kira apa jua,
Cabaran dan derita.

The translation is a breeze, at the same time that it removes the association with the god of Islam in the minds of both Christians and Muslims.

Theology behind God’s name

The third reason for not using ‘Allah’ is a theological one. Since ‘Allah’ in the Malay language is the personal name of the god of Islam, it is theologically unwise for Christians to use it in reference to the trinitarian God of the Bible.

Furthermore, the Old Testament had been translated from Hebrew into Greek, known as the Septuagint, long before Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary.

missionary school 241207 jesusJesus Christ and the apostles placed their imprimatur on the Septuagint by using it, as can be seen from their constant quotation from it in the New Testament.

The Septuagint translates ‘Elohim’ as ‘Theos’ (English, ‘God’), and ‘YHWH’ (Yahweh or Jehovah) as ‘Kurios’ (English, ‘LORD’).

The New Testament was written in Greek, in which God is referred to as ‘Theos’, just as in the Septuagint, while Jesus Christ is addressed by the title of ‘Kurios’.

The Septuagint and the New Testament thus set for us the pattern of translating ‘Elohim’ and ‘YHWH’, as well as the pattern for how Jesus Christ is to be addressed.

Quoting the theologian, John Owen, “an apostolic example has the force of a divine institution”.

This pattern has been followed in the translation of the Bible into English and various languages, but is not followed in the Alkitab.

The suggestion to use ‘Tuhan’ for ‘Elohim’ (‘God’), ‘YAMTUAN’ for ‘YHWH’ (‘LORD’), and ‘Yamtuan’ (‘Lord’) to address Jesus Christ is consonant with apostolic example.

We have fought for our right to use ‘Allah’ on socio-politico-historical grounds, viz;

  • The use of ‘Allah’ for ‘God’ among Christians in Arabic countries preceded the advent of Islam;
  • The Bible has been translated into Malay for over 300 years in which ‘Allah’ is used;
  • The indigenous Christians in the states of Sabah and Sarawak have been using ‘Allah’ long before the two states joined Malaysia in 1963; and,
  •  It is the constitutional right of non-Muslim Malaysians to use ‘Allah’ since the freedom of religion, speech and association is guaranteed, and the use of any language, including Malay, is not the sole prerogative of any ethnic group.

We have won the legal battle for the right to use ‘Allah’, although there have been attempts made to hinder us from using it freely.

This problem has dragged on for a good thirty years! The question is, do we have to insist on exercising our right to use ‘Allah’? “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify (1 Cor. 10:23).”

The recent hoo-hah over the use of ‘Allah’ has revealed that a sizable number of Muslims in the country are distressed over its use by the Christians.

Plea for the extra mile

Can we not go the extra mile to show forth Christian love by not using ‘Allah’? After all, there are the biblical-theological-linguistic reasons for not using ‘Allah’ which must now be weighed up.

It is not for others to force us to drop the use of ‘Allah’. It is for us to choose not to use it out of the conviction of the rightness of not using it.

The liberty of conscience is a precious truth. God alone is Lord over the human conscience.

We are all looking forward to a better Malaysia, in which there are definite attempts made to abolish discrimination based on colour, class and creed.

The cry for “liberty, equality, and fraternity” resonates in every heart. At the base of that ideal is the truth of the liberty of conscience.

Brethren, will you give this appeal – to drop the use of ‘Allah’ – your consideration?

BS POH has been a preacher and teacher of the Bible for over 30 years. He holds a PhD degree in Engineering and a PhD degree in Theology. He was incarcerated for his faith under the ISA from 1987 to 1988.



  1. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all Malaysians.

    Comment by Desit ak Ribig — January 31, 2013 @ 8:07 PM | Reply

  2. My suggestion for this religious crisis is, for each and every devouted christians to be fervent in prayers and pray for our muslims brothers and sisters, that Jesus christ will gives them more visions and dreams. Christ’s loves is for every men and women. I am just a simple and happy man, but with out The Love of Jesus Christ, i am no one .My personal comment on this ALLAH crisis is just this, lets hopes that every Malaysian should think appropriately ,wisely, in brotherly manner. I pray to Jesus Christ,that he will pour his loves to all our muslims brothers and sisters….!!


    Comment by Desit ak Ribig — January 31, 2013 @ 8:01 PM | Reply

  3. This Ps Poh fella must be joking. Appealing to the Christians to relinquish their rights to call their god ALLAH, he is asking the Christians to submit to the uncertainty of being respected thereafter and not further suppressed and oppressed by these Muslims extremists and fanatics who hide behind their religion to gain political mileage. What is to stop them from forbiding the Christians from using other religious words in the future if they are allowed to subjugate the Christians on the usage of the one word ALLAH?

    Comment by brian — January 28, 2013 @ 5:10 PM | Reply

  4. For once, Zaid is speaking sense!

    Subject: : battle lines being drawn…if I can’t win, i won’t let you win either……solution: sow mayhem

    Mahathir’s trump card?? Violence…

    Dr M must be stopped
    By Zaid Ibrahim ( former Law Minister)

    If we follow the actions and thinking of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his supporters, then we must rectify the “errors’ of the past, even if it means violating established principles of the Constitution, laws and good governance.

    According to them, bringing in more Muslims into Sabah in the 1990s and making them citizens was not a cynical move to help the ruling coalition win elections (although that was the immediate benefit), but to correct the mistakes of history. Simply put, the country needed to have more Muslims – even if they were foreigners from the Philippines, Pakistan or Indonesia – because Tunku Abdul Rahman “gave away” citizenship to the Chinese and Indians as part of the Merdeka agreement. Dr M somehow blames the Tunku for making citizenship “easier” for non-Malays, which he believes justifies his call for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Tunku’s decision 60 years ago.

    His ranting could be ignored if it weren’t for the fact that it’s dangerous. Dr M destroyed UMNO when it did his bidding and we must not allow him to destroy the country too. To advocate reviewing all past policies and disowning our former leaders’ great sacrifices is highly irresponsible. The country’s design and constitutional make-up is not like the latest Proton model for him to change at whim. Our heritage and history are ours, not his. He has lost all sense of proportion in trying to gain traction for his wayward political views to change the outcome of the General Election.

    Dr M was a member of the Alliance, which agreed to adopt the principle of “jus soli” in granting citizenship to non-Malays. It was a social contract that the Malay Rulers agreed to, and which the rakyat also supported, as evidenced by the Alliance’s overwhelming victories in the 1955 and 1959 elections. Yet Dr M has no compunction ridiculing our pioneering leaders’ great effort to forge a nation. He is bent on making race a divisive issue in this General Election and he will destroy this country if his views are not accepted.

    So let’s make this General Election a referendum on the man himself. If we reject him, as we must, then we can only do so by rejecting the Barisan Nasional. The eunuchs in the BN are all scared of him. I urge Malaysians to show their revulsion for this man and his ideas by rejecting the BN once and for all. We cannot solve today’s problems by harping on the past. We have to live with the past, and not find excuses when we are unable to govern well now. We solve problems by working together, by adopting peaceful means and by having big-hearted leaders like the Tunku. The revisionists of our history have to be put in their proper places.

    Comment by Malaysia Tomorrow — January 28, 2013 @ 1:48 AM | Reply

  5. Dear BS Poh
    Let me ask you frankly. All the while you were addressed as BS Poh. Now UMNO takes over and says all the people must have a Muslim name. for example Iskandar Poh. You have no choice. And now you will be known as Iskandar whether you like it or not. In the same way the people in SAbah and Sarawak have been using this word for a long long time. How do you propose that the Christians do it? And even if they do not want to do is UMNO going to kill all Christians? Burn all the Bibles and buildings? I thought Islam was a tolerant and peaceful religion just as you point out that Christianity is supposed to promote peace love and understanding. Now where do we stand? Are not the politicians the culprits? Don’t blame the Muslims on the street it is not their doing..it is an old geese who started this in1980’s with UMNOBARU87 and they fell for it. But many Malays are now awake and that is why he does not like this and he is worried and he wants to create a problem. He blamed the Chinese for starting Mei 13 but the Tunku told a different story. Today he cannot afford to have a clash between two Malay rival groups because if they find out he is finished. The only way is to drag religion in just as he used it against Tengku Razaleigh once in Sabah. You have to see through his moves. That is how he survived 22 years and is still surviving because he has enough money to buy anyone. If you remember it he once said, ” Everyone has a price” and that’s how even the Sultans kow towed to him.. Watch the politicians on both sides. They play us out and get us to kill one another for their survival. It happened in 69. And history may be repeated because he cannot afford to lose. Let us preserve Malaysia as a peaceful country and not allow ourselves to be played out. We must not be afraid of politicians. They must serve us. Not we serve their purpose. Now some are stupidly serving them.

    Comment by Malaysia Tomorrow — January 28, 2013 @ 1:06 AM | Reply

  6. Lets put it this way. UMNO played up the issue. The courts have already granted the fact that the word can be used. It is an Arabic word. All over the world there is no confusion even in Arabia where there are Christians. They do not own it. They say it confuses their faithful. The last 60 years no one was confused. Najib and his gang did study in Christian Schools. They are not confused. Why make the Muslim population look stupid just because a few want to exploit this for their votes and are they using this to threaten the public to vote them in again. If they keep threatening the public again and again with violence and killings by calling on Mei 13 every time there is an election you might as well ask them to move in to your house and take over. whatever rights you have left. It is because the politicians took care of their own plates of rice and riches they sold out on the citizen. Today for example you cannot do anything about the 200,000 illegal immigrants naturalised in Sabah. They have taken away the rights of the Sabah people and given it to outsiders. Worse still they have played the Malays or bumiputeras out by making these immigrants as equal status with them. Is it fair you treat a pre independent Malay the Pa Chik and his childlren the same as the newly made Malay or bumiputera?? CAn you imagine the impact that this is going to have on the original Malay children’s ability to get jobs and opportunities in the future when others have come in to grab the cake as well. Forget about the Indians and Chinese since they are considered pendatangs. Look at the unfair treatment of the Malay in his own country by making him equal to these new comers even though they claim to do it for Islam. is this fair in their own religion? NO NO it is for the politician’s survival so that he can be voted in again and again to rob the country as you can see. This issue is not about religion. This issue my friend is the survival of an old geese politician who wants to make sure that he and his gang are not dragged to court if the opposition wins. for the many crimes against the citizens of Malaysia. Malaysians have to get rid of this old geese if it wants to see a better future for Malaysia. Why let him and his gang to exploit us and we lose our lives for their survival? AREN’T we being stupid????very very very stupid!!!

    Comment by Malaysia Tomorrow — January 28, 2013 @ 12:43 AM | Reply

  7. @ Taib,

    Why not use the word ‘God ‘ for God. At these days and age, everybody knows the word ‘God’. UMNO must pay to replace the bibles. They don’t like it , they pay.

    ==> Allah is an Arabic word not English. God is an English word use by English speaking Christian. Malay speaking Christian use Allah not God.

    Comment by CosmicBoy — January 27, 2013 @ 8:34 PM | Reply

  8. Why most ex-ISA make a u turn ha????

    Comment by CosmicBoy — January 27, 2013 @ 8:32 PM | Reply

  9. RAW: I would say that former ISA detainee and religious teacher BS Poh presented quite convincing arguments in his appeal to Christian Malaysians to stop using the word ‘Allah’.

    For many Christian Malaysians, those who do not use the Malay language at home and in church, this is a non-issue and the appeal can be easily taken up.

    But I wonder about those Christians who use the Malay language in their worship, like the natives in Sabah and Sarawak or Christians who are educated in Bahasa Malaysia.

    If you have been calling your father ‘Papa’ during the last 50 years, I wonder how you would feel if someone suddenly tells you to stop using it and replace it with ‘Dad’ or something else, just because he claimed that your father is not like his father and he also called his father ‘Papa’.

    Even if all Christians take up Poh’s appeal, I wonder if it would stop those people who have exploited this issue (or non-issue) for political reasons from finding faults with Christians.

    Comment by Raw — January 27, 2013 @ 12:52 PM | Reply

  10. Why not use the word ‘God ‘ for God. At these days and age, everybody knows the word ‘God’. UMNO must pay to replace the bibles. They don’t like it , they pay.

    Comment by Taib Mahmud — January 27, 2013 @ 6:36 AM | Reply

    • In Sarawak here,we the Bidayuh, when ever we pray, we say God our Father in Heaven. God true name is YAHWEH or JEHOVAH or YEHSUA….so why should we use ALLAH ? I use to call GOD my heavenly Father cause he fill me with his HOLY SPIRIT………

      Comment by Desit ak Ribig — January 31, 2013 @ 8:26 PM | Reply

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