Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dutch Bishop urges Christians to call God "Allah"

Catholic churches in the Netherlands should use the name Allah for God to ease tensions between Muslims and Christians, says a Dutch bishop.

Tiny Muskens, the bishop of Breda, told the Dutch TV program "Network" Monday night he believes God doesn't mind what he is called, Radio Netherlands Worldwide reported.

The Almighty is above such "discussion and bickering," he insisted.

Muskens points to Indonesia, where he served 30 years ago, as an example for Dutch churches. Christians in the Middle East also use the term Allah for God.

"Someone like me has prayed to Allah yang maha kuasa (Almighty God) for eight years in Indonesia and other priests for 20 or 30 years," Muskens said. "In the heart of the Eucharist, God is called Allah over there, so why can't we start doing that together?"

Muskens thinks it could take another 100 years, but eventually the name Allah will be used by Dutch churches, promoting rapprochement between the two religions, he said, according to Radio Netherlands.
Oh how wonderful, gush the relativists! Let's just hug and hold hands and sing Kumbaya! (I suppose it would be "Kumbaya Allah" instead of "Kumbaya O Lord?"). Heathen! Traitor! Sell-out! cry the haters-of-Islam! How dare he!

Well, now that the caricatures are out of the way, let's examine the good Bishop's proposal a bit (assuming, which is always a big assumption, that he was represented fairly in the story)? "Allah" is just the Arabic name for "God." If we use "Allah" instead of "God" (which is, incidentally, also the word in Dutch), we're more welcoming. We can build bridges, help healing between the communities. Middle-eastern Christians, after all, use Allah."

I don't know. I'm not that sanguine. Maybe in the context of a joint inter-faith prayer meeting, with the intention of conducting dialogue, learning about each other's traditions and beliefs. Perhaps, then, one could use some of these prayers of Middle-Eastern Christians. Perhaps one could also request that our Muslim friends use the English or Dutch word in their Arabic prayers. We meet as equals, after all, on the field of dialogue. In fact, I tend to be fond of reminding Western Christians of these prayers of Eastern Christians -- for, often, the Western understanding is that Allah is simply the Islamic (as opposed to Arabic) word for God. And while some might claim that the word "Allah" is inextricably tied to Islam, I suspect that Melkite or Maronite Christians would disagree -- at least forms of that word are used by Middle-Eastern (and it would seem Indonesian) Christians as well. (For a truly breathtaking example of fear and loeathing of Islam and Muslims, just read the comments on Robert Spencer's JihadWatch and Dhimmiwatch pages. Now, I actually find Spencer to be intriguing -- his books tend to focus on arguments and avoid ad-hominem attacks. The same cannot be said at all about the commentariat at his blogs.) I also suspect that Christians from the Middle-East might be a bit more circumspect and cautious about relations with Islam.

But unqualified use of Allah in the Mass in Dutch on a routine basis? (Or English?) ("May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of Allah and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be always with you."?) Certainly, if any Muslims are present (generally, I'd say, quite unlikely in Europe), they might be pleasantly surprised, and might wonder what is going on. I suspect though, all that this would do, is further the sense among Christians that what one says about God really doesn't matter, and promote religious relativism and indifferentism, already so widespread in the Church. For, the Christian understanding of God as Trinity is quite different from the strict taw'hid, one-ness of God, of Islam. Islam, after all, charges Christianity with muddying the pure waters of monotheism, and even charges Christianity with polytheism. One would hope that the good Bishop doesn't think that this is just "bickering" and that it does matter a lot, to us, who are trying to be faithful to our traditions, and who care about truth.

And if one accepts the Eurabia thesis (it's compelling, but I'm not entirely convinced), then the Bishop's words might be prophetic. Future Christians might be using Allah afer all. But not in the sense the good Bishop intended.

[Update Ruth Geldhill's picked this story up. Interesting comments over there.]


Mac said...

Oh, why not go whole hog (as 'twere) and refer to Jesus as Isa, which is what Muslim Arabs call him, and not Yesua, which is what Christian ones do? One wonders just how much contact this person has had with Muslims. Actually, Muslims I know tend to use "God" in English anyway and I have no doubt that those who don't would find such a gesture as is proposed either contemptible or confusing.

thomps said...

I've been to Malta which is extremely Catholic. Their language is a dialect of arabic but is spelled with a latin alphabet. They refer to God as Allah but that is their language and culture, therefore it makes sense for them to use the term Allah (and is used in their liturgy). Now for me to run around praying and referring to Allah makes no sense as it is not my language or culture. It's rather obvious why native Dutch people would find this suggestion offensive. Perhaps, Dutch Muslims should make an effort to understand the majority culture and language that they now live in and use whatever the Dutch word for God is.