Jakarta (Fides News Agency) - The Indonesian government will no longer use, in Bahasa, Indonesia's national language, the term "Isa Al-Masih," a word of Arabic origin, to refer to Jesus Christ and Christian holidays. An end will thus be put to the decades-long practice of using the term routinely used by believers of the Islamic religion, who draw from the Arabic terminology in the Quran. Beginning in 2024, public institutions will use the term "Yesus Kristus in both documents and speeches," which baptized Indonesians of all denominations use in their prayers and liturgies. "There will be a change in nomenclature, as far as the names of holidays are concerned, in accordance with the Minister for Religious Affairs," said the Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture, Muhadjir Effendy, in recent days, reporting that "the name Isa Al-Masih will be changed to Yesus Kristus." The deputy minister for religious affairs, Saiful Rahmat, specified that the change was requested by representatives of Indonesian Christians.
The measure has generated mixed reactions and opinions in the public, which have also emerged in the Indonesian media. According to some Christians, it is the right decision because, in Christian liturgies the word "Isa Al-Masih" is never used, but "Yesus Kristus" is used. According to others, the change was unnecessary because "people already know that saying Isa Al masih refers to Jesus Christ, and the name is interchangeable."
In any case, the debate has not, so far, degenerated into controversy: in Islamic-Christian relations in Indonesia there are no tensions, given the nature of "Nusantara Islam," or Indonesian Islam, which has spread and taken root in the archipelago through the preaching of merchants and without any violence, since the 13th century CE. No problems of religious semantics have been created in the past or present. In the past the question was raised as to whether Muslims-whether or not it was right on the level of their faith-to wish "Merry Christmas" to Christians. Eventually the Muslim leaders themselves agreed, in the view of pure sharing of religious sentiments.
In the Bahasa language, the Indonesian national language, Muslims and Christians fluently use the Arabic term "Allah" to refer to God, bearing witness, even on a lexical level, that they are all "children of Abraham," believers in the "religions of the Book." We should remember, however, that the use of that term has generated tensions in neighboring Malaysia, which has cultural and linguistic proximity to Indonesia, such that the Bahasa language is common, albeit with some national nuances.The Malaysian government issued a measure in 2008 banning Christian citizens from using the term "Allah" to refer to God I n their publications and liturgies. The matter ended up in court, with an appeal filed by the Catholic Church: after a long legal battle, in three levels of court, in 2021 the Malaysian High Court ruled that the measure was "unconstitutional" and ruled that non-Muslim citizens can also use the word Allah in their religious publications and cultural materials.
Bishop Vitus Rubianto Solichin, a Xaverian missionary and Bishop of the city of Padang in Sumatra, an Indonesian island where communities live that observe a strict and traditionalist Islam, explains to Fides Agency: "The issue regarding the name of Jesus in Indonesia concerns us vigilantly: We would not want it to take the turn it took in Malaysia, that is, to turn into a ban aimed at Indonesian Christians to use the term Isa Al-Masih. The important thing is to maintain and ensure freedom for all also in language. It must be said that Indonesian Christians regularly use several Arabic words in their religious discourse such as 'Al-kitab' to mean the Bible, 'Injil' for the Gospels and 'Jemaat' for congregations. We hope and are confident that the Indonesian government can hold firm to the principles of equal dignity, rights and freedom of all believers in Indonesia without any discrimination."
(PA) (Fides News Agency 7/10/2023)