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"Allah is a very beautiful word for God. Shouldn't we all say that from now on we will call God 'Allah'?" asked Bishop Martinus Petrus Maria Muskens in an interview on Dutch TV this week. "God doesn't care what we call him."
Muskens, the Roman Catholic Bishop of the southern Dutch town of Breda, is known for previous controversial remarks suggesting the poor should steal bread and advocating the use of condoms to control the spread of AIDS.
As quoted by Radio Netherlands, three decades ago, when serving as a missionary in Indonesia, "someone like me ... prayed to Allah yang maha kuasa [Almighty God] for eight years and other priests [did so] 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?"
The bishop further noted that in Arabic-speaking regions, Christians speak of "Allah" as Westerners might speak of "Lord," and indeed were using the term in Aramaic before the rise of Islam.
But why the need for the switch now?
"If Muslims and Christians address God with the same name, this contributes to harmonious living between both religions," read a statement on the Web site of the Breda Diocese.
The diocese is careful to note that "the idea of calling God 'Allah' in the Catholic liturgy in the Netherlands has not been discussed as a component of diocesan policy, or as a policy of the Dutch [Catholic] Church."