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Indonesia to Indigenize the Arabic Name for ‘Jesus Christ’

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Come 2024, the world’s most populous Muslim country—Indonesia— will stop using the Arabic term for Jesus Christ when referring to Christian holidays and will instead use the indigenous Bahasa-language term, Yesus Kristus

Indonesia’s impending transition from using the Arabic term Isa al Masih (The Messiah) to the native expression for Jesus Christ will bring about a change in the official names of three national holidays associated with Christianity: Good Friday, the Ascension of Christ, and Christmas. 

Until now, those Christian holidays have been denoted as the “Death of Isa Al Masih,” the “Ascension of Isa Al Masih,” and the “Birth of Isa Al Masih.”

The name change was proposed by Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, according to a statement made in September by Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture Muhadjir Effendy, the Indonesian state news agency Antara reported

According to Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs Saiful Rahmat Dasuki, the alteration in terminology was made at the request of Indonesian Christians. 

“They want a change in the nomenclature to reflect their faith, using ‘Jesus Christ’ in the commemoration of his birth, death, and ascension,” Antara quoted the minister as saying.  

For generations, both Muslim and Christian Indonesians have employed the term Allah as the representation for God. The Arabic term initially disseminated to Southeast Asia during the 1100s, with the establishment of Muslim sultanates, eventually becoming integrated into the Malay language family, which encompasses Malaysian and Indonesian.

Numerous Arabic terms have been assimilated into Bahasa Indonesian and are widely utilized by Christians, according to an October 31 article about the impending name change in Christianity Today. These include Alkitab for Bible, Injil for Gospels, and jemaat for congregation.

Christians in Indonesia’s census classification, a country that is officially secular,  make up roughly 10 percent of  country’s population of 275.5 million people.

The proposed name change aims to distinguish Jesus, revered by Christians, from his presentation as Isa al Masih in the Quran, Islam’s holy book, where he is regarded as a prophet rather than as God Incarnate—the Christian belief that He is God in human form.

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