The Bishop of Breda, Tiny Muskens, wants people to start calling God Allah. He says the Netherlands should look to Indonesia, where the Christian churches already pray to Allah. It is also common in the Arab world: Christian and Muslim Arabs use the words God and Allah interchangeably.
Speaking on the Dutch TV programme Network on Monday evening, Bishop Muskens says it could take another 100 years but eventually the name Allah will be used by Dutch churches. And that will promote rapprochement between the two religions.
Muskens doesn’t expect his idea to be greeted with much enthusiasm. The 71-year-old bishop, who will soon be retiring due to ill health, says God doesn’t mind what he is called. God is above such “discussion and bickering”. Human beings invented this discussion themselves, he believes, in order to argue about it.
More than 30 years ago Bishop Muskens worked in Indonesia and, there, God was called Allah, even in Catholic churches. The Dutch should learn to get on spontaneously with different cultures, religions and behaviour patterns:
“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. In the heart of the Eucharist, God is called Allah over there, so why can’t we start doing that together?”
In the Arab world God is called Allah. The long history of Christianity in the Arab world led to the development of a rich Christian-Islamic theological vocabulary, which makes God a normal equivalent to Allah. Both Muslims and Christians use the word in the Middle East.
Apart from Allah, the term ar-Rabb (the Lord) is also widely used, although this appears far more often in the Arabic version of the Bible than in the Qur’an. In the Islamic context, references to ar-Rabb are normally found in the possessive form, such as Rabbi (My Lord). Interestingly, the word Allah was already in use by Christians in the pre-Islamic period.
Bishop Muskens proposal will undoubtedly receive a warm welcome from the Islamic community in the Netherlands. Particularly as it follows last week’s remarks by Geert Wilders about banning the Qur’an and, shortly before that, former Muslim Ehsan Jami’s comparison of Muhammad with Osama bin Laden.
Perhaps this is the reason Bishop Muskens’ remarks have received so much attention in the Dutch press. The bishop actually said exactly the same several years ago. He also suggested abolishing Whit Monday as a national holiday in favour of an Islamic religious day.
In the past, Bishop Muskens has offended many Muslims. In 2005 he said Islam was a religion without a future because it had too many violent aspects. The bishop is also responsible for a number of controversial remarks. He caused uproar in the Netherlands when he said the poor had a right to steal bread if they were hungry. And he put the Vatican’s back up with an appeal for the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS.
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