The 71-year-old Bishop Tiny Muskens from the southern diocese of Breda, a former missionary to Indonesia, said "Allah is in itself also a beautiful word for God."
Muskens made the comments at the opening of an exposition in the Dutch ‘Museum Park Orientalis’ near the eastern city of Nijmegen. It was previously known as the Catholic oriented ‘Bijbels Openluchtmuseum’ (‘Biblical Open Air Museum’), but later became an "inter-religious museum" focusing on Christianity as well as Judaism and Islam.
The museum park, which prominently displayed the Biblical road traveled by Jesus to the cross and the stable of His birthplace in Bethlehem, now also accommodates a mosque with minaret. Muskens made clear he appreciates the changes in the park, which have been condemned by other church leaders, including fellow Catholic Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, of the diocese of Den Bosch.
"It doesn’t matter in which God you believe. God is for all people. Allah is also a beautiful word for God," Muskens said. Asked whether his comments would not lead to a conflict with his colleague Hurkmans, Muskens stressed he had his "personal opinion" and that "there is room for all faiths." A "quarrel over faith," he added, "is characteristic of this society not of God."
The discussion over the place of Allah in Dutch society comes at a time of an already heated debate on religious tolerance in a country with one million Muslims. In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was assassinated by a Muslim militant for his involvement in the movie ‘Submission’ about violence against women in Islamic societies. Politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script, received death threats.
In addition several Muslims-turned-Christians have reportedly been threatened or attacked. And, more recently, the chairman of the Netherlands-based Central Committee for Ex-Muslims, Ehsan Jami, was put under special police protection after being attacked this summer.
Jami, 22, who is also city councilor of the left-leaning Dutch Labor Party (PvdA) in the municipality of Leidschendam-Voorburg, said he was beaten up August 4, by three men while leaving a supermarket. It was the third time that Jami was attacked, prompting the Dutch National Coordinator Terrorism Suppression to intervene.
The developments prompted populist politician Geert Wilders of the anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV) to publicly call this year for the Koran, seen as a holy book by Muslims, to be banned. Wilders said some of the text’s verses instruct Muslims "to oppress, persecute or kill Christians, Jews, dissidents and non-believers, to beat and rape women and to establish an Islamic state by force."
Fearing a backlash, the Dutch government quickly condemned Wilders’ suggestions. "Freedom of religion, like freedom of expression, is one of the foundations of our constitutional democracy," said Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen in comments monitored by BosNewsLife.
Bishop Muskens suggested that these tensions could be eased when Christians start calling God "Allah," something, he claimed, priests have done for years in Indonesia. Before his latest comments, he told Dutch television: "What does God care what we call him? It is our problem."
Not everyone agrees. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. who is president of US-based Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, argues that it is inappropriate for Christians to call God Allah as there are irreconcilable theological differences. The theologian points out that the Koran denies that Allah has a son and that Islam considers the idea of a triune God to be blasphemy. "Thus, from its very starting point Islam denies what Christianity takes as its central truth claim – the fact that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father," Mohler wrote.