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Is Our Translation of 'Allah' Inconsistent, Insensitive and Inaccurate?

Is Our Translation of 'Allah' Inconsistent, Insensitive and Inaccurate?

On March 12, theSun carried an article by *Tan Sri Prof. Dzulkifli Abdul Razak entitled "Inconsistent, insensitive translation of 'Allah' ".

The thrust of Prof. Dzulkifli argument is that the methodology employed in translating the word 'Allah' appears questionable. His argument is premised on how the words 'Allah' and 'Tuhan' are seemingly used in an inconsistent fashion and how other Arabic words are not retained in the translation of our Scriptures, thus giving the impression that our translation methodology is riddled with confusion.

The use of the word 'Allah' in our translation has demonstrated itself to be the most appropriate form and word for God in both Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia based on sound linguistic usage and historical usage.

Hence his finding that "the inconsistencies, inaccuracies and insensitivities in the use and misuse of the word 'Allah' have become even clearer". With due respect to Prof. Dzulkifli, we find his analysis flawed on several counts.

Firstly, Prof. Dzulkifli was wrong in assuming that the Bahasa Indonesian version of the Alkitab as authorised by Konperensi Waligerja Indonesia was translated from the English New King James Version.

A check with the Indonesian Bible Society confirms that the New King James Version was never the base text on which the Indonesian Alkitab Terjemahan Baru was translated from.

The fact is that the Terjemahan Baru was translated directly from the original language of the Bible - Hebrew (Biblia Hebraica Kittel edition) and Greek (Nestle Aland edition) - and this is clearly stated in the inside cover of the Indonesian Alkitab. Since the writer has based his analysis on this wrong assumption, his finding and conclusion are highly suspect.

Secondly, in translating the Indonesian Alkitab, the Indonesian Bible Society has always followed linguistic-based translation theory and practice which has been well documented in academic circles and applied by Bible translators all round the world. The main principle has always been the accuracy and faithfulness to the meaning and function of the text in the original languages as well as allowing for a natural reading in the modern Indonesian language. Hence, the philosophy and methodology in the translation of our Scriptures have never been arbitrary or in confusion as alluded by the writer, but are consistent and logical.

Thirdly, the Arabic word 'Allah' is cognate to the Hebrew word for God - el, elohim, eloah and the Aramaic alaha. As such, the word 'Allah' has always been the rendering for the Hebrew el, elohim, eloah, the Aramaic alaha and the Greek word for God theos.

From before the dawn of Islam, Arab Christians have been using 'Allah' to render the Hebrew el, elohim, the Aramaic alaha and the Greek theos and this is reflected in the earliest translation of the Arabic Bible (8th century AD) to the modern Arabic Bible. As with the case of the Arabic Bible, the word 'Allah' has also been in constant use from the earliest Malay/Indonesian translation by A.C Ruyl (1629), M. Leijdecker (1733), H.C Klinkert (1879), W.A Bode (19228) to the present Alkitab Terjemahan Baru.

Likewise, the word 'Tuhan' which is the translation for the Hebrew words YHWH/adonai and the Greek word kurios (both rendered as Lord in English). In all these instances, there has never been any confusion or complexity arising from the use of the word 'Allah' to render as God and the word 'Tuhan' to render as Lord, both in terms of translation and meaning. One therefore wonders where and how the confusion arises in this present day context when it has never been the case.

Fourthly, how Christians translate the names of biblical characters, geographical location and places has no bearing on and does not alter the fact that the word 'Allah' has constantly and consistently been translated for God throughout its historical usage. It has demonstrated itself to be the most appropriate form and word for God in both Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia based on sound linguistic and historical usage.

It is unlike the translation of biblical characters and geographical places, which are based on the historical and present names (that are familiar to the present users) in the modern Indonesian language.

Having said this, we fail again to see the inconsistencies and inaccuracies as alleged by Prof. Dzulkifli.

In view of the above, we can only conclude that the conclusion arrived at by Prof. Dzulkifli that our use or misuse of the word 'Allah' is "inconsistent, inaccurate and insensitive has become even clearer" is manifestly untenable for the lack of proper basis and sound reasoning. His concern in this respect is also premature and unfounded.

For the Church, and particularly the Bumiputera community, we can affirm that the word 'Allah' is indeed the proper usage for the word 'God' and that our Scriptures in Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia is the assured Word of God "breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

(Read also Kairos Research Director Dr Ng Kam Weng's response at

*Tan Sri Professor Dzulkifli Abdul Razak is Vice-Chancellor of USM.

The data and sources in the article are provided by Dr Daud Soesilo, Asia-Pacific Translation Consultant, United Bible Society.


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