A religious controversy came and went here in Sarawak before I even heard about it. The Bup Kudus, the translation of the Holy Bible into the Iban language, was banned two weeks ago, and dis-banned today. The Sarawak Tribune I picked up was so information-poor, I could not discern from the article why they banned it, when they banned it, or why they had lifted the ban. I found a partial explanation here:
The secretary-general of the Malaysia National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, the Rev. Wong Kim Kong, said from Kuala Lumpur there had for some time been difficulties over the fact that some words used in Islam were also used in Christian publications.
Some Muslim leaders thought this could perplex Muslims who picked up such books.
Among the words that cause concern is “Allah.” It’s the word Muslims use for the deity they worship, but the Arabic word pre-dated Islam and is also used by Christian Arabs when referring to God – despite the considerable differences in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic conceptions of God.
The Iban translation of the Bible uses the term “Allah Taala” for God, while the other banned Christian books, in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, also use “Allah” for God.
This is thought likely to be one of the problem areas for the Home Ministry.
I think the Home Ministry made the right move by lifting the ban. But the language issue is an interesting one. Allah is used interchangeably with Tuhan to mean God in Bahasa Malaysia, but Tuhan is the original Malay word. When my son learns the meaning of an Arabic dua in school, Allahumma (Oh God) is still translated as Ya Tuhan. I don’t speak any Iban at all, but I would be very surprised if Allah is the original or preferred word for God, what to speak of Allah Taala (Almighty God), which is rarely heard even among Malays outside of Islamic religious sermons. So why would the Bup Kudus translators go with that translation? It is reminiscent, as Anak_Alam pointed out, of the uproar over Arabic Bibles that began with the Bismillah (that’s it at the top of the page), a distinctly Islamic invocation whether it has an intelligible meaning to non-muslim Arabs or not. Well, now that it is lawful again, I’ll have to go pick up my own copy of the Bup. I’ve still got my childhood copy of the Bible (KJV), so I should be able to learn a bit of Iban with them side by side.
[Update: The first thing that popped into my head when I saw the words Bup Kudus was the Holy Piby, the “Black Man’s Bible” that Rastafarianism is built on. Rather a tangent, I know, but that’s what the web does best. ]