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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

ALLAH and its Usage!

MY Weltanschauung Readers,

I'd receive an e-mail re the "usage of Allah" issue from an old friend.
His last article on " A Hung Parliament in UK" was published many moons ago when he was reading Law at Leeds University,UK.

I'd would like to add a fact that the usage of the word "ALLAH" has been gazetted in several states in Peninsular Malaysia but surprisingly not in Sarawak or Sabah (despite UMNO having been in power for a number of years!).

The following article is his opinion. Though excerpts/ edited version of this article have been published in a local newspaper, MY Weltanschauung is posting his article in its entirety.



Dear Mr Amirul / MY Weltanschauung,

As a Muslim, I am deeply concerned about the on going controversy surrounding the usage of the term Allah by the Catholic Weekly, the Herald. Over the past few weeks, debates on this subject have certainly dominated the headlines but the contending parties are no closer to finding a solution to this somewhat contentious if not explosive issue.

While both sides must be allowed to exhaust their legal options to the fullest extent, I believe that any pronouncement by the appellate courts too will not present parties to this conflict with a rounded and satisfactory solution. If anything it will only serve to persuade them to take up a more legally entrenched position. And as can be seen with any human construct system, the concept of law and the notion of justice can at times albeit paradoxically, be at variance if not mutually exclusive.

From the Muslim’s side, we have had some meaningful and intellectual contributions to this debate by several eminent scholars and jurists. The bone of their contention appears to be that the usage of the term Allah by the Christians is contextually flawed be it from a historical, linguistic, legal or even theological perspective. Essentially, there exists no justification whatsoever for the Herald to insists on the same. In point of fact, since the advent of Islam, they argue Muslims have always used the term Allah to refer to God and therefore its usage to the Muslims is as exclusive as the Pope is Catholic.

On the other hand proponents for the Herald’s cause have pointed out that in neighbouring Indonesia certain section of Christians have been known to use the term Allah in reference to God. Therefore, there is no reason for imposing restriction on the choice of language. This view is not without support from certain segments of the Muslim community. They feel that the Muslims should concentrate on strengthening their religious beliefs (aqidah) instead of wasting their efforts and anger on such pedestrian issues like semantics.

Be that as it may, it is imperative to note that the majority of Muslims in this country are opposed to the idea. To them, the concept of oneness or unity of God is central to the beliefs of all Muslims. Therefore it would be totally unacceptable that the existence of Allah can be explained in any other way let alone via the Trinity concept subscribed by the Catholics. Additionally and by any stretch of imagination, it cannot be pragmatically argued that the Catholics in this country would be severely disadvantaged if they are prevented from using the term Allah in their sermons or publications. To date there exists no statistical evidence to show that such a prohibition would seriously impair their ability to preach and practice their faith. The Herald episode to me is certainly a new phenomenon. Perhaps it is the result of our constantly evolving democratic society which has seen considerable progress over the last thirty years. By and large, it cannot be disputed that the majority of Muslims in our country are a tolerant lot who believe in peaceful co existence with their non Muslims neighbours. And their moderate stance on many issues has certainly contributed significantly towards the stability and prosperity of this country. Therefore, the recent attacks on churches around the country must be speedily and firmly dealt with by the authorities. Such senseless and dreadful acts of vandalism are not only incompatible with the spirit, letter and intent of Islam or any religion for that matter, but can also destroy the very fabric of our multi racial and multi religious society. This must never be allowed to happen if the ‘1 Malaysia’ concept is to be promoted and embraced as the national ideological statement for this new millennium.

One constructive proposal which deserves serious attention is the idea to set up the National Consultative Council on Religious Harmony by Dr Chandra Muzaffar. The powers roles and functions of the council must be properly defined to avoid confusion. It must be borne in mind that in 2005, many Muslims strongly opposed the idea to set up an Interfaith Commission as they fear it was an attempt to usurp the powers of the Malay Rulers on Islamic matters. To dispel such fears and anxieties, it is pertinent that such reservations be addressed from the on set. Membership of such a council too must be representative of all the major religions in this country. At the very least the council must serve as an effective and condusive forum to discuss contentious religious issues of our times.

In the final analysis we have until recently, often been cited as an exemplar nation for our management of racial and religious issues. The Herald’s case presents both Muslims and Christians in this country with the unique opportunity to demonstrate that spirit of tolerance, compassion as well as accommodation in seeking a perennial solution to this impasse. To succeed, the constructive participation of all religious as well as political leaders from both sides of the divide remains quintessential. This I believe will be our greatest challenge as a plural society. And if we succeed in overcoming this obstacle with great aplomb, then and only then should we allow the praises to rain unchecked.

Faizal, JB

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