Kids Corner


Inshallah - God Willing!
The Use & Abuse of The Word "Allah"
The Roundtable Open Forum # 109





I have spent the past two months in and about Malaysia listening to grassroots talk on this very intriguing controversy on the use (or misuse) of the word ‘Allah’ in relation to Sikhs here.

A 'law' has been passed, in general, by the judiciary here that the word ‘Allah’ cannot be used by non-Muslims in publications. The controversy has been a long drawn out affair and I have been trying to find out how it started and why such a kerfuffle over it.

This is the inside scoop!

But, at the outset, let me say that the law has mainly been passed by the predominantly Islamic government because Christian evengelism in these parts is aimed at drawing the mainly indigenous folk away from Islam towards Christianity.

Christian propaganda in east Malaysia has been using (or, perhaps, abusing) the word ‘Allah’ for nefarious reasons in their literature promoting the Christian faith amongst the unsophisticated natives in Sarawak and Sabah in remote, northern Borneo - which is also part of Malaysia.

Firstly, let me explain that from my early years in Malaysia (and Malaya before that) the word generally used both by Malays (Muslims) and non-Malays for God/Allah, especially in the Malay language, is 'Tuhan'.

The story is that, in subtle fashion, the Christian literature has been using the word Allah and also inferring that whereas Mohammed is the prophet of Allah, the son of Allah is Jesus. A sort of one-upmanship in proselytising. Who would you back - the prophet or the son?

Christians do a great deal of research on how to tackle the gullible, the weak, the naive, into the Christian fold. We Sikhs too are victims. For example, I know of quite intelligent Sikhs who have been enticed in one way or another and also been financially lured, to become evangelical preachers. They are fully turbaned and bearded and look like Sikhs but use the line, "Nanak showed me the way to Jesus", for their preaching.

So, even as objections mounted from the Muslim clergy, Christian organisations kept asserting their right to use the term Allah until a court case materialised. Then, the Inter-faith organisation of Malaysia stepped in and defended the right of non-Muslims to use the word Allah.

Here, enter the Sikhs - as part of the inter-faith movement, being reminded that they are most threatened because the Guru Granth Sahib has the word Allah within gurbani.

The judiciary and also other Muslim legal folk tried to tell the Sikh 'legal eagles' representing the Malaysian Gurdwara Council at these hearings that it really had nothing to do with them and the term Allah already in the Guru Granth Sahib was not affected as it was written in a few hundred years ago. The objection was the use of Allah in current proselytising literature.

But urged on, mainly by the Christians, it appears, they felt that there would be nothing to stop the Muslims into the future from insisting that the word Allah also be removed from the Guru Granth Sahib. While this might seem a valid point, others say that a piece of legislation even protecting the Guru Granth Sahib would not stop future generations of fundamentalist Muslims from causing further problems for the Sikhs and Allah in the Guru Granth Sahib, if they wanted to.

Most importantly, if we as Sikhs go about trying to defend the Guru Granth Sahib, then it also means that the courts can rule one way or the other! Isn’t the Guru Granth Sahib above and beyond human-made law? Does it need our protection, legally or otherwise?

In the midst of all this, the president of the Gurdwara Council was pushed into the position of becoming president of the recognised Inter-Faith Council here. So, not only was he putting out statements on behalf of the Sikhs but also fronting statements from the Inter-faith movement.

Suddenly, and understandably, the Sikhs were not being seen in very good light by Muslims generally. Even the other non-Muslim faiths appeared to be using a Sikh to spout their grievances over the ban on the use of the term Allah - but which was mainly for their proselytising.

Normally, from personal previous experiences, I know that inter-faith movements never normally allow a Sikh to be president. It’s almost always a Christian or an obliging Jew. Sikhism is held as a minority faith and normally even Hindu representatives try to dishonestly pass off Sikhism as a sub-sect of their faith and sabotage and subvert Sikh representation on inter-faith organisations.

Here, in the midst of a crisis, the Sikh is handed the post of president of the inter-faith movement! Seemed rather convenient for the other faiths but certainly not the Sikhs - more like a scapegoat situation, if you ask me.

Reminds one of the position of Guru Tegh Bahadar and his defence of the right of Hindus to practice their faith. He gave his life for that freedom for the Hindus. (And have the Hindus ever been grateful for that?)

Now the president of the Gurdwara Council has jumped into the fray. But rather than defending some genuine 'freedom' to practice, here he is defending the mischief of the Christians! Can he not see that it is a 'con' job especially by the Christians?

Suddenly Sikhs do not look good. They are even speaking on behalf of the inter-faith movement! Muslims, who look upon the Sikhs as closest to them amongst all other faiths. Suddenly, they see a Sikh, the president of the inter-faith movement, speaking out against them.

The issue of 'Allah' in Malaysia is a very delicate one and though on the surface appears to ridicule Malaysian authorities about their rigidity, one needs to look at the underlying issue created by the ongoing proselytizing going on, mainly by the Christians.

Sikhs should not allow others to make scapegoats of them. There is a Punjabi saying - “He wishes to fire the gun, but rests it on the shoulder of someone else … to avoid blame.“ In this case it will appear that the Christians want to keep firing their guns but they are using the camouflage of the other faiths and the shoulder of their Sikh representative now thrown into the position of president, to do so.

And, the Sikh is naively allowing that! I think Sikh-Malaysians should wake up to this kind of trickery from other proselytising religious groups who use any and all gimmicks they can to further their aim of achieving conversions!

I am always wary of the hidden agendas within the representatives of so-called inter-faith movements and though these movements may do good in inter-faith and inter-racial harmony, one needs always to be on one’s guard, especially us Sikhs. We can be very, very trusting and, dare I say, naive.

Remember, we are the one faith amongst the world religions which does not look for conversions from others. In fact, we frown upon such activities as being contrary to godliness. Not all faiths or rather their representatives can be trusted like that.

Where, on the one hand, we are and should always be looking for common grounds with other faiths, we should equally voice our disapproval at those aspects of other faiths that infringe on basic universal truths and practices which are against human dignity. For example, the ugly caste system and the equally obnoxious discrimination against women.

We should certainly speak out and oppose any form of proselytising by other faiths.

We do not seek converts, either by pressure or lure or misinformation.

No one should.       



We invite our readers to comment on the above. Your thoughts and opinions can be posted hereinunder.


[Edited for]

November 22, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), November 22, 2013, 9:28 AM.

I'm not really surprised that Christians would use the word 'Allah' for the purposes of conversion. It is a standard Christian practice when evangelizing in new communities to combine native practices and Christian practices together. This is not done as a form of syncretism, but is instead done with the intention of converting individuals. As long as you convert one generation, regardless as to the "quality" of their conversion, you are ensured their children for generations to follow, and that is where you reinforce traditional Christian theology.

2: Harinder (Punjab), November 22, 2013, 10:09 AM.

Let faith be people's personal pursuit.

3: Parmjit Singh (Canada), November 22, 2013, 10:16 AM.

Beautifully thought out and written. This should be in the Malaysian press as well as the interfaith media around the world. Respecting all, yet self-respect fully intact. If others could learn that simple notion, there wouldn't be a problem in the first place.

4: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), November 22, 2013, 3:19 PM.

The best ever expose on the burning issue of Allah. Dya ji, you write with equal aplomb as you sing, a deadly combination of an evangelist who needs to neither entice nor lure by devious means. Some years ago when Bhai Vir Singh ji's usual routine as a teenager was to go to Harmandar Sahib daily in the wee hours, one day his father's friend -- an elderly pundit -- met him and said to him: "Kaka ji, come under the refuge of Krishan Maharaj." Bhai Sahib asked: "Where does Krishan Maharaj live?" "Oh, He is all pervading." "In that case," replied young Vir Singh, "I am already in His refuge." Hearing this, Pundit ji took the teenager into a warm embrace, saying "Kaka ji, thanks for teaching me the real meaning of Gita." "Nanak vaychaaraa ki-aa kahai / sabh lok salaahay ayeks sai / sir naanak lokaa paav hai / balihaaree jaa-o jayutay tyaray naav hai" [GGS:1168.14] -- "What can poor Nanak say? Nanak places his head at the feet of those who remember Him by any name!"

5: Harjit Nanua (UEP Subang Jaya, Malaysia), November 22, 2013, 7:21 PM.

I have to strongly agree here. We just came back from Punjab and we see huge churches being built there. In Punjab, holy water is labelled as amrit in the bibles and Jesus is placed as Guru. Again, the question, 'Son of God' or Guru like Guru Nanak? We were quick to notice also the signboards in the Harmandar Sahib saying, "Please take your Holy Communion from here", referring to degh.

6: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), November 22, 2013, 10:34 PM.

Sikhi, like most other faiths, welcomes all mankind to its fold. If not, then there would be no Sikhs/Khalsa, just as there would be no other followers of other faiths. We should put our own house in order rather than point fingers at others. The One all-pervading God can be called by different names ... this is the principle of Sikhi.

7: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), November 23, 2013, 6:54 AM.

Brilliantly writen item! For that reason, the logic flaw is well hidden! Why not agree on ground rules for seeking converts instead of running to the courts - and that too in a Muslim country? I agree with Sunny Grewal's comment at 1#. In the UK, we are dealing with aggressive - and I mean sometimes physically aggressive - Islamic evangelism openly spreading misinformation about Sikhism in colleges and universities. Therefore the "Challenge to Sikhism" - by late S. Gurbachan Singh Sidhu. Despite much editing of letters from Muslim fanatics with their own explanatory notes - my remit - and S. Gurbachan Singh's scholarly replies, I agreed with the Sikh Missionary Society UK that it was too risky to keep the book on the Society's shelves. There are too many gullible young Sikhs in Punjab and abroad who prefer to read what non-Sikhs write about Sikhism (partly due to generally shoddy Sikh research and journalism). Two wrongs do not make a right and, in pendu (village) Punjabi, Muslims need a large "danda" (stick) to "phero" (sweep) under their own bed! So, now, when equally devious Christians use "Allah" to promote their own "Son of Allah" against Allah's Muslim prophet, the Muslims are seeking legal redress. Let us not forget that Guru Nanak freely used Hindu and Muslims names for the Creator Being, and Ved-Kateb lore as the gurbani idiom for introducing a revolutionary ideology for a brave new world. The Muslim rulers and clergy did not stop him from using the word "Allah" in preaching a non-Islamic religion. For Malaysian Sikhs to decide how to explain the Sikh position, Dya has given the right pointers.

8: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), November 23, 2013, 6:27 PM.

Sikh belief is that GOD cannot be limited or circumscribed by a mere name or description. Therefore our Gurus employed all names associated with God. Fundamental thinking is that it is the mind and the heart that are to be in communion with God and as such any name is good enough. Our Gurus referred to God as Anaami (without a name). Guru Nanak in Japji: "jaytaa keeta taytaa naa-o" - "All that He has created goes by His Name". Again in Japji: "jin aih likhai tis sir nahai". That is, "He is not subject to the names He has created." Whatever be the circumstances, if Sikh-Malaysians need to take a position on this issue, their response should be simple, referring to Japji Sahib.

9: Gurmit Singh (Sydney, Australia), November 24, 2013, 10:12 PM.

Thanks, Bhai Dya Singh ji. Let Christians in Malaysia sort out this problem, but the Sikhs in Malaysia should stay away from this controversy. However, it is not made clear what remedial steps are being thought over by the Sikhs in Malaysia so as to avoid any such action against the Sikhs?

10: Ranjit Singh Sidhu (United Kingdom ), November 25, 2013, 9:16 PM.

Dya, your article has highlighted the zealotry being practiced in Malaysia and here in the United Kingdom. In addressing the problem of Sikhs converting to other religions: it is the lack of communication skills of our 'preachers' who are unable to put their message across to the younger generation. This is what needs addressing urgently. I will also add, sadly, that there are adults too who are unable to grasp what is being preached in our gurdwaras. The Sikh Gurdwara Council should actively look at bringing in preachers (raagi's, etc.) who are fluent in English as well. India is also plagued with Christian evangelism.

11: Gurbachan Singh Sekhon (Johor Bahru, Malaysia), November 26, 2013, 7:18 AM.

This issue should be taken up with the Islamic clergy by the Malaysian Gurdwara Council, not the Sikh representatives on the Inter Faith Organization. The Sikh President of the Malaysian Inter Faith Organization should consider resigning.

12: KSD (Mumbai, India), November 26, 2013, 8:22 AM.

A quote by Martin Niemuller (1892-1984): "First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me." The sacrifices of our Gurus and ancestors have not gone unrewarded. These sacrifices have made us what we are today, a confident, proud and law abiding community. God is called by many names. How can anyone 'patent' a name? Everyone is a student of God, and it is for the pupil to decide whom they want to follow. If Nanak leads them to Jesus or Jesus leads them to Buddha, it does not matter. What matters is where the pupil is welcomed to learn. If any community does not welcome all its members equally, some pupils are bound to get upset and leave.

13: Shadaan Nano (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), April 21, 2017, 8:27 AM.

Organized religion is forever active in gathering power for itself. It corrupts the authorities with this power, and also those who follow it. We have all been cheated or lied to enough by the religious and political elites for centuries. I believe it is time to step out and be alone.

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The Use & Abuse of The Word "Allah"
The Roundtable Open Forum # 109"

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