Ideally, making the Bible available to Malaysian Christians should be a “no-brainer”, i.e., nothing there to even think about. Yet, the issue has become a true “tempest in a teapot”.
First, let’s be clear that the Bible, in whatever translation, is a piece of literature. Many people feel that Muslims should read it. A friend related to me of his encounter during an inter-faith visit at a local church, where he was surprised at how compatible the preacher’s sermon was with Muslim belief until a certain point. He further said that as guests in the church, we may always politely dismiss the singing, gender-mixed social seating, and prayer forms.
However, we have one disadvantage among those churchgoers. The Christians have the most effective outreach machinery on earth. How they have achieved this is primarily due to money. We cannot equal them, although we probably could if more of our rich Muslims decided to invest their money in that way instead of building ecologically disastrous huge buildings or buying London hotels.
The result of all this “missionary money” is a phenomenon that anthropologists call the “rice Christian”. The “rice Christians” are village farmers, or other poorly-educated citizens, whose own governments and NGO’s neglect them so much that Christian NGOs are able to come in and buy their conversion to Christianity with food. In Indonesia, the choice for the rice Christians has been either go to church or starve to death. And yes, there is still such poverty there.
Some people are of the view that a Malay version of the Bible is perfectly admissible. However, the use to which it may be put is questionable, as is the use of the name “Allah” by so-called committed Christians. Our Prophet (s.a.w.) went to great lengths to teach Muslims various ways to differentiate themselves from the Jews and Christians in their immediate environments. This version of the Bible, which mistakenly uses terms clearly defined in the Islamic religion, will certainly not help us do this. It will instead cause greater confusion not only among Muslims, but also among Christians themselves. We see for example, the argument put forward by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who said “that it is inappropriate for Christians to call God Allah based on irreconcilable theological differences associated with the name Allah and core Christian beliefs” (Refer http://www.christianpost.com/news/is-calling-the-christian-god-allah-wrong-29015/).
He argued that the key condition behind calling the Christian God Allah is that Allah must refer to the same God as the one in the Bible. This, he contends, is a problematic requirement for Christians since the Qur’an explicitly denies that Allah has a son, and Islam considers the idea of a triune God to be blasphemy. I am no expert in the study of Islamic theology, but I am convinced that there is a list of writings put forward by many Muslim scholars in support of this aspect of the Islamic teachings.
So the idea of stamping “For Christians only” in these Bibles, is appropriate in certain Muslim countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, where efforts toward Christianization are especially virulent and Christian infiltration of our Ummah is very well funded, even planned tactically like some vast military campaign (by the Jesuits in Indonesia, among others).
We all want to see a world of mutual respect and understanding in which Holy Books may be accessible to all, without fear or prejudice. Yet right now, we cannot be at all sure of such respect and understanding from the Christians among us, and so Muslims must be reminded, it seems, that reading the Bible is most certainly a “Christian” thing to do, or will hide certain unwelcome influences, until the People of the Book (“Ahli Kitab”) learn to live on a “level playing field”, i.e., with true spirit of ‘muhibbah’ and, also important, equal riches.
Azril Mohd Amin is vice-president, Muslim Lawyers Association of Malaysia.