Churches Attacked in Malaysian ‘Allah’ Dispute

ppgj

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Churches Attacked in Malaysian ‘Allah’ Dispute


By SETH MYDANS
Published: January 8, 2010


The Metro Tabernacle Church in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, one of three churches that were attacked with firebombs on Friday.

Video Library Home Page - The New York Times

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Three Christian churches were attacked with firebombs Friday as tensions rose in a dispute over whether Christians could use the word “Allah” in this largely Muslim nation.

The Metro Tabernacle Church in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, one of three churches that were attacked with firebombs on Friday.

Later in the day, small crowds rallied outside two major mosques in the capital, in a growing protest over a court ruling that overturned a government ban on the use of “Allah” by Roman Catholics as a translation for God.

The government has appealed that ruling, insisting that the ban should remain in force, and made no move to bar the unsanctioned rallies, as it commonly does.

But a police helicopter hovered low over the front of the city’s central mosque, drowning out the words of the speakers on its balcony.

“Allah is only for us,” said Faedzah Fuad, 28, who participated in the rally. “The Christians can use any word, we don’t care, but please don’t use the word Allah.”

Despite escalating political rhetoric and the early-morning violence, the rallies of 200 to 300 people were far smaller than the thousands predicted by organizers.

Hand-lettered signs reading “Please respect the name of Allah” remained in a stack on the ground where Ms. Faedzah had prepared them.

Though Malaysia is 60 percent Malay and Muslim, sizable minorities of Chinese and Indians practice Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism in this country of 28 million.

Ethnic and religious politics have grown more intense since the government suffered severe losses in a general election last March. Much of the reverse came at the hands of minority voters who were disturbed by the government’s increasingly conservative Islamic tone.

The government has appealed and has been granted a stay of the High Court ruling on Dec. 31 that allowed a Catholic newspaper to use the word “Allah” in its Malay-language editions.

The word has been widely used as a translation for the word “God” in Malay-language texts and services, particularly among Christian indigenous tribes in the remote states of Sabah and Sarawak.

It is also the common word used to describe the Christian God in Arabic-speaking countries like Egypt and Syria and in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, whose language is a variant of the Malay language.

During the current dispute, many Muslims here have argued that the use of the word by other religions could confuse believers and tempt them to convert from Islam.

Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned the attacks on the churches Friday and defended the government against accusations that it had at least tacitly sanctioned the violence. “We have always been very responsible,” he said at a news conference.

In the first attack, shortly after midnight, the police said that a firebomb had destroyed the ground-level office of the Metro Tabernacle Church. They said that worship areas on the two upper floors were undamaged and that no one had been injured.

Two other churches were attacked by arsonists before dawn, with only one of them sustaining minor damage, according to the police.

Churches Attacked in Malaysian ‘Allah’ Dispute - NYTimes.com
 

mattster

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Malaysia is slowly going to "hell in a handbasket".

I am glad that I left 25 years ago. No regrets at all !! None !!

Its a shame because, it was once upon a time, a very tolerant country with enormous potential.
It still is somewhat tolerant, but its a classic case of the too many nutcases gradually overwhelming the sane folks.

The advent of political Islam and a new Islamic resurgence among the majority Muslim Malays has created all kinds of tension with the non-Muslim Indian and Chinese.

Non-Muslims have been gradually become more and more marginalized, and Malaysia has become a laughing stock with some of the gimmicks pulled by the Islamic authorities

Here is a list of a few recent events I can remember:

1) Islamic authorities stealing Hindu dead bodies from the morgue on the count that the husband converted without telling his Hindu wife before he died. This was a Hindu man who was married more than 20/30 years.

2) Forcing young children 4y/o to convert to Islam because one party of a non-Muslim couple converted to Islam.

3) Monopoly of the word "Allah" which even many Malay Muslim scholars have claimed is utterly ridiculous since it is an Arabic word that predates the founding of Islam.

4) Canning a young Muslim woman for having a beer with her husband in a pub, whereas every single day there are tons of Muslim men who drink freely in other states in Malaysia.

5) Dragging a severed head of a cow to a Hindu Temple and throwing inside the grounds of the temple to protest the building of a Hindu Temple in a predominantly Malay area.
(Its not like there aren't a ton of Mosques in predominantly Chinese and Indian areas. If an Indian or Chinese were to throw a pig head into a mosque, I can guarantee you that that half the Muslim population in Malaysia will be out in streets with knives killing every non-Muslim they could get their hands on )

6) and in the last few days, the fire-bombing of 4 to 5 churches over this stupid " use of the word Allah" issue.


There is no end to the ridiculous and trivial debates that seem to come up in Malaysia regarding race and religion.

This is despite the fact that they have instituted a policy called the NEP since the 1970s which provide special priviledges for the Malay Muslims - everything from University entrance, scholarships, business loans, govt jobs, buying homes with discounts, etc, etc. I cant even list all the special priviledges.....too many.

The Malay Muslims call themselves "bumiputras" - Prince of the Soil.
Indians(10%) and Chinese(25%) are effectively 2nd class citizens and they are reminded of it every day.

Malaysia is slowly becoming the "Theater of the Absurd".
Malaysia is often quoted as one of the few examples of a succesful dynamic tolerant Muslim majority country.
That definition of Malaysia is slowly becoming a joke !!.
But on the plus side, the food there is still fantastic.

PS: I dont mean to imply that all Malay are racist bigots or religious fanatics, but it doesnt take many to spoil the soup for everyone.
 

ppgj

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The Hindu : News / International : Church attacks in Malaysia deepen racial tension

Church attacks in Malaysia deepen racial tension

AP, KUALA LUMPUR, January 11, 2010

Eight churches have been attacked over three days amid a dispute over the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims, sparking fresh political instability that is denting Malaysia's image.

The unprecedented attacks have set off a wave of disquiet among Malaysia's minority Christians and strained their ties with the majority Malay Muslims. About 9 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people are Christians, most of whom are ethnic Chinese or Indian.

Muslims make up 60 percent of the population and most are ethnic Malays.

The attacks were a blow to racial unity espoused by Prime Minister Najib Razak under his “One Malaysia” slogan since taking power in April, and posed a headache for him as he seeks to strengthen his ruling coalition after its losses in 2008 general elections.

“It showed that, after 52 years of living together, nation building and national unity is in tatters,” said Charles Santiago, an opposition Member of Parliament. “The church attacks shattered notions of Malaysia as a model secular Muslim nation in the eyes of the international community.

“Malaysians are now living in fear of a racial clash following the church attacks and rising orthodox Islamic tones in the country,” Mr. Santiago said.

Many Muslims are angry about a Dec. 31 High Court decision overturning a government ban on Roman Catholics' using “Allah” to refer to their God in the Malay-language edition of their main newspaper, the Herald.

The ruling also applies to the ban's broader applications such as Malay-language Bibles, 10,000 copies of which were recently seized by authorities because they translated God as Allah. The government has appealed the verdict.

Firebombs were thrown at seven churches nationwide since Friday, with another splashed with black paint. No one was hurt and all suffered little damage, except the Metro Tabernacle Church in a Kuala Lumpur suburb, which had its office on the first floor gutted by fire.

Analysts said the line between race and religion in Malaysia is slowly eroding.

“There has been a gradual merging of Malay identity with Islam. Malaysia is heading toward dangerous waters,'' said James Chin, political science lecturer at Monash University in Malaysia.

“Minorities are under siege and feel they don't have a place in Malaysia anymore,” he said.

Malaysia's ruling coalition, the National Front, is dominated by UMNO, which is made up exclusively of Malay Muslims. The Front narrowly won general elections in 2008, but it was its worst performance after five decades of political dominance since Malaysia won independence in 1957.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim blamed the church attacks on the UMNO-led government's “incessant racist propaganda” over the Allah issue and inflammatory rhetoric issued by state-controlled mainstream media.

Even Razaleigh Hamzah, a veteran UMNO member, has criticized UMNO for “digging itself into an intolerant hard-line position” in a bid to woo voters after its election losses.

“UMNO is fanning communal sentiment, and the government it leads is taking up policy lines based on sensitivities rather than principle,” he said.

The Allah ban is unusual in the Muslim world. The Arabic word is commonly used by Christians to describe God in such countries as Egypt, Syria and Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation.

The Herald has been using Allah in its Bahasa Malaysia publication since 1995, but it was not until 2006 that it was warned by the government to stop using Allah to refer to God.

Despite the attacks, thousands of Christians nationwide attended Sunday services and prayed for national unity and an end to the violence.

Men, women and children from the Metro Tabernacle parish assembled Sunday in a cavernous, 1,800-seat meeting hall of the Malaysian Chinese Association party for the service.

Government leaders and many Muslims have condemned the firebombings, saying it is un-Islamic to attack places of worship.

Mr. Najib visited the Metro Tabernacle church late Saturday and announced a grant of 500,000 ringgit for rebuilding it at a new location.

“It's been a difficult weekend for all. I share your outrage. We must stand united and not allow these incidents to break us,” Mr. Najib wrote on his twitter account, NajibRazak.

The Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, said Christians won't be intimidated by the attacks, describing them as the work of an extremist minority among Muslims.
 

mattster

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Yesterday it seems like someone staring throwing rocks at a Sikh temple in Malaysia.

All that talk of interracial harmony is slowly getting flushed down the toilet, because of religion.
 

Ray

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While the term is best known in the West for its use by Muslims as a reference to God, it is used by Arabic-speakers of all Abrahamic faiths, including Christians and Jews, in reference to "God".[1][2][3] The term was also used by pagan Meccans as a reference to the creator-god, possibly the supreme deity in pre-Islamic Arabia.[4]
Allah
 

sandeepdg

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Seems like Malaysia is slowly going down the hardline Taliban way, and if they keep at it for long, then maybe another Afghanistan in the making !
 

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Erasing “Allah” In Churches And Mosques

The controversy in Malaysia shows the arrogance and ignorance that often underlie fanaticism. But it is also heartening to discover the strength of Malaysia’s public sphere.

C.M. Naim

The foundational creed for all Muslims is: “There is no god save Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s prophet”—with the Arabic word Rasul indicating Muhammad’s status. Rasul literally translates as “someone who was sent,” but in common usage in Arabic—and in Islamicate languages such as Urdu and Persian—it means a prophet or apostle. According to the Qur’an, Jesus too is a Rasul of Allah’s Rasul, as are in fact all the prophets of the Old Testament. However, in Islam, Jesus is not God’s Son; though immaculately conceived, he is described only as the son of Maryam or Mary. A useful summation of what the Qur’an tells Muslims about Jesus is found in 4:156–8, where the Jews are chided—“[156] … because they denied and spoke dreadful calumnies of Mary; [157] And for saying: ‘We killed the Christ, Jesus, son of Mary, who was an apostle of God;’ but they neither killed nor crucified him, though it so appeared to them. Those who disagree in the matter are only lost in doubt. They have no knowledge about it other than conjecture, for surely they did not kill him, [158] But God took him to Himself, and God is all-mighty and all-wise.” (Ahmed Ali, Al-Qur’an, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1984, pp. 93-4.) Christianity, obviously, is six centuries and few decades older than Islam, and every reader of the Qur’an knows that its earliest verses directly and repeatedly, though not exclusively, addressed the Christians of Mecca, reminding them Allah and His Rasul, Jesus, while pointing out their “errors” in belief about the latter.

In other words, Allah was the Arabic word that the people of Mecca—Christians, Jews, and so-called Pagans—were quite familiar with and understood it to represent a singular Supreme Being in Arabic, their shared language. The word, no doubt, had an earlier history, but that is not of concern here. Of importance is the simple fact that a fairly large body of Arabic speaking Christians had been using the word “Allah” for at least a few centuries before the advent of Islam. And that for any Muslim to make a monopolistic claim on the word in the name of Islam would be an act of abysmal ignorance and absolute arrogance. To my limited knowledge, no Muslim, had ever made such a claim in the past.

But these are bad times, reminding us of the words that Yeats made memorable some ninety years ago: “… everywhere // The ceremony of innocence is drowned;// The best lack all conviction, while the worst // Are full of passionate intensity.” And so we have the situation in Malaysia, where some Muslims recently attacked and vandalized nine churches because they did not wish some Malaysian Christians to use “Allah” to refer to their own God.

I have above used the word “some” twice advisedly. According to an Associated Press report of January 9, “Only the Malay-language prayers for indigenous tribes people in the remote states of Sabah and Sarawak use ‘Allah,’ as they have for decades.” And the Catholic weekly, Herald, uses the word only in its Bahasa Malaysia edition. It had been doing so since 1995, but it was not until 2006 that it was warned by the government to stop. And it is only some Malaysian Muslims who, individually or collectively, have been involved in the recent arson and vandalism. (The most recent being an attack on the offices of the lawyer for the Catholic Church.) The many reports in the New York Times barely hinted at that “some-ness.” I had to go online and find some English language Malaysian blogs and newspapers to discover that while the problem was more extensive there was also greater dissent and resistance to the ban among Malaysian Muslims than was reported in the American press, and that any number of prominent academics and journalists had severely criticized the attacks, while bringing to light the issue’s fuller history within the context of Malaysia’s somewhat unique federal political system.

Apparently, there was a local ban and a fatwa to that effect in 1986 in the state of Selangor, which was made into a state law in 1988, and eventually became established in March 2009 as a fully gazetted law in all the constituent states of Malaysia—though not without challenge and opposition from various religious and secular organizations. The ban, in fact, concerned four words, the other three being “Kaabah,” “Solat,” and “Baitullah.” The enacted law prohibited Non-Muslims from using those four words with reference to any occasion or activity that was not Islamic.

It may be recalled that not too long ago there was in Malaysia another brouhaha. A fatwa was issued and nationally confirmed making Yoga a “non-Islamic” practice that Malaysian Muslims were told not to engage in. Earlier there were other controversies—over beauty pageants and also whether it was right for Malaysian Muslims to greet their non-Muslim compatriots on the latter’s religious occasions. I should note that the mufti of Selangor disapproved of the pageants and Yoga but allowed offering greetings to non-Muslims. Indonesia, incidentally, did not prohibit Yoga to its much larger Muslim majority population.

The judicial review sought by the Catholic Church last year came to a conclusion recently. The court’s verdict went in favor of the Church, allowing it to use the word “Allah” in its Malaysian language publications. It was only then that the churches were attacked, including one in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. The response of the Malaysian state so far has been quite satisfactory. It launched an investigation, arrested some alleged culprits, and provided just compensation to the victims. It has also tried to draw the world’s attention to the peculiarities of its federal political system, and asked for more patience and understanding from the critics. At present, the government is making plans to appeal the verdict, and the court has issued a stay on its own order. (As far as I could discover, the verdict exclusively devoted itself to the word “Allah,” and did not overturn the ban on the other three words—nor, it seems, had the Catholic Church asked differently.)

What was certainly heartening for me was to discover the strength of Malaysia’s public sphere through the reports, postings, and analyses available on the web in such journals as the Malay Times and Star and particularly at thenutgraph.com. I learned, for example, about the forum in Kuala Lumpur on January 11 that lasted for four hours and was attended by some 900 people, and where divergent views were peaceably expressed and argued over, with full participation from the audience.

“'Allah' is a specific name, not a general name for God," said Dr Khalif Muammar, a fellow from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)'s Institute of the Malay World and Civilisation. "The word 'Allah' has been Islamicised since God's revelation to Prophet Muhammad.”

Dr Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran, a Department of Usul al-Din and Comparative Religion lecturer from the International Islamic University Malaysia agreed. "The question is not whether non-Muslims can use 'Allah'," he said. "The question is, is it appropriate and good for them to do so? 'Allah' has been accepted by Malay [Malaysians] and has an established meaning ... [It] has been used [by Muslims] since the time of the Prophet Muhammad…."

Other speakers, however, disagreed and said there was no restriction in the Qur'an or Hadith on the use of "Allah" by non-Muslims.

"There is nothing that states that the word 'Allah' is exclusive to Islam," said Dr Azwira Abdul Aziz, an Islamic lecturer from UKM's Faculty of Islamic Studies. "This issue has not even been debated in the Islamic world. It's almost as if it has been so clearly understood until it does not need to be mentioned."

Azwira added that it was wrong to say that "Allah" should be exclusive to Islam in Malaysia just because it was accepted as the norm by Muslims….

"It is not the word 'Allah' that differentiates Muslims from non-Muslims," said Khalid Samad, PAS Member of Parliament. "It is the understanding of who Allah is and his traits."

A participant also pointed out that when a distinguished Muslim translated the Bible into Malay 150 years ago he used “Allah” to mean “God.” Similarly, it was enlightening for me to learn that in Malaysia it was up to the individual Ruler and religious bodies of each state to accept or reject any edict issued by the National Fatwa Council. (Read more: here) One wishes that reports of such gatherings were also distributed by the New York Times as the reports of the criminal incidents that occasioned them. In contrast, I found that Al-Jazeera on the web had more extensive and nuanced coverage of the issue, both in regular news reports and in the blogs of their correspondent, Teymoor Nabili. (See, for example, here)

I was however still intrigued by the original ban of 1986 that covered three more words besides “Allah,” namely “Kaabah,” i.e. the Ka’ba at Mecca, “Solat,” i.e. Muslim obligatory prayers (in South Asia, more commonly called Namaz), and “Baitullah,” lit. “God’s House,” i.e. a mosque. Surely, I asked, those three words were not likely to be used by any Catholic to refer to his religious institution or practice?

A little more search and a report in the Malaysian Bar concerning confiscation of imported books in January 2008 provided the answer. It mentioned in passing: “[The Deputy Minister] Johari said the ministry did not only target on (sic) Christian books in the operations.” That was perhaps his way of acknowledging the fact that the main target of the original ban in 1986 was the Ahmadi Jama’at. Most likely in imitation of the draconian law put in place by Gen. Ziaul Haq in Pakistan only two years earlier, making it punishable for anyone to directly, or indirectly, pose himself as a Muslim, or call, or refer to, his faith as Islam, or preach or propagate his faith, invite others to accept his faith, “by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrag[ing] the religious feelings of Muslims.” The bluster in the final phrase is almost desperate in its viciousness.

As compared to Pakistan, or even India, the Ahmadis in Malaysia form a minuscule minority. They number “only 2,000 at the most” in a population of more than 28 million. They don’t look different from Malay Malaysians, and their identity cards list Islam as their religion. In contrast, in Pakistan, they are listed as non-Muslim, cannot vote as Muslims, and in order to get a passport must sign a declaration that they consider their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, “an impostor nabi.” (For more on Malaysian Ahmadis, see here)

I would love to be corrected but I do not recall much opposition in Pakistan’s public sphere—either in 1974 or ten years later—to the draconian laws and the resultant persecution of the Ahmadis that was often fatal, except by a few brave people who were first at the English monthly Herald and later started Newsline. The Urdu press, as I remember, was in fact vociferous in applauding the law, while remaining silent about its victims. And if any public meeting was organized by university teachers and public intellectuals in those years, it was certainly not reported in major newspapers. In any case, the persecution has continued. As recently as August 2009, there were reports of state supported vandalism at Ahmadi mosques, where the words “Allah” and “Muhammad” were erased or painted over under the supervision of the local police. (Watch: on Youtube) . And only this month an elderly Ahmadi man was gunned down in Ferozewala after he had protested to the police about a big signboard set up at the main roundabout in the city that contained “slogans provoking people against the Ahmadis.” (The sign was not removed at the time of the report.)

But, I’m glad to report, things seem to be changing a bit even in Pakistan. After the incidents in August, an Urdu journalist and TV personality, Mobasher Lucman, conducted a couple of programs that expressed explicit condemnation of the deeds. (See here and here.) Though, to my knowledge, the program did not include any Ahmadi, it was still a big step forward. Similarly, the recent killing in Ferozewala received full and sustained coverage in at least one English language newspaper, the Daily Times, including an editorial titled "Protect Ahmadis"

The Pandora’s Box, so to say, was opened in Pakistan in 1974 by a self-proclaimed Socialist, Z. A Bhutto, when he had the country’s parliament declare the Ahmadis to be a non-Muslim minority. It was the first concession made by the Pakistani state—more accurately, by a desperate and unprincipled politician—to the fanatically sectarian elements in the Sunni Muslim majority of Pakistan. It only encouraged the latter to become bolder and more expansive in their demands. The situation was subsequently made much worse by Gen Ziaul Haq, the original jihadist. The laws remain on the book and fanatics still succeed in manipulating the polity, but after 35 years at least a few voices of sanity and conviction are being raised and also heard. In Pakistan just as in Malaysia. And that is something to be grateful for.

C.M. Naim is Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago
www.outlookindia.com | Erasing ?Allah? In Churches And Mosques 
 

S.A.T.A

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While violence of this kind over such a seemingly trivial matter is condemnable,its more than meets the eye.Why do Christian have a problem with using Yahweh or jehovah,a term for God used abundantly in Old and new testament.

While Christian literature and evangelists refer to god as Parameshwar(of course without understanding its spiritual context) in the India,this can accepted given that the term is endemic to only Indian phonology.However Allah is not endemic to Bhasha and hence the term must only be viewed in its narrow religious sense,within the parameters of the Islamic tradition.

This must be just another cheap grape shots in pursuit of pope john Paul's now famous call for increasing the 'Harvest'.
 

ahmedsid

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Ray sir is correct, Allah is used all over the Mid east and some parts of Africe from people of all Religions. You go to a christian in Lebanon and he/she will be using Allah. The Malaysians are pretty narrow in their mindset if they start acting like this. This is not a good message, not at all. Just goes onto show that its all the more important that we all must be ready to respond to and annihilate hardcore religious fundamentalists wherever they are. Shame actually!
 

roma

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Malaysia is slowly going to "hell in a handbasket".

I am glad that I left 25 years ago. No regrets at all !! None !!

PS: I dont mean to imply that all Malay are racist bigots or religious fanatics, but it doesnt take many to spoil the soup for everyone.
which soup - is taht soup kambing ?? heheheheh

do you speak malay ?

Hi there mattster _ hmmm interesting that you were in malaysia - so that was durign the time of Dr Mahathir ??

i too had some contact with malaysia through foreign student friends mainly - am still in contact with them - apparently the situation is basically under control

from what i heard i t is mainly the east malaysian churches who are causing this problem .
 

mattster

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You got your facts all wrong about Malaysia.

East Malaysia is where Muslim, Christians and even Animists have lived peacefully and respected each other's faith.

West Malaysia is where there has always been the interracial and inter-religious tension.

In West Malaysia - all the Malay speaking people are exclusively Muslim.
In East Malaysia, you have Malay speaking Christians who are part of the indigenous culture of Sabah and Sarawak.

These people have used the word "Allah" for ages without any problems.

East Malaysians are upset because it seems that West Malaysia problems seem to infect East Malaysia.

The West Malaysian government exploits natural resources in Sabah and Sarawak and takes most of the money back to West Malaysia.
East Malaysians are basically being screwed by West Malaysia as all their timber and mineral resources are exploited and very little given to the people of East Malaysia.

Sabah and Sarawak(East Malaysia) should have never joined the Malaysian Federation. I think they are slowly begining to realize that now.
 

ppgj

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Opinion

No Monopoly On Allah

The controversy in Malaysia stems from the fact that the Roman Catholics refer to God as ' Allah' in their Malay paper Herald. Those objecting to it should know that the word 'Allah' in Arabic was in use before Islam.

Asghar Ali Engineer

Of late I have been receiving questions about the controversy these days in Malaysia. Many Malay Muslims are objecting to the use of word ‘Allah’ by Catholic Christians. They feel only the Muslims can use the word ' Allah' and the Christians cannot. The case reached the High Court of Malaysia which allowed the use of the word 'Allah' by Christians. However, the government of Malaysia has suspended the court verdict for the time being -- not because it is trying to defy the orders of the highest court but because the controversy has become politically unmanageable due to overcharged emotions.

The controversy stems from the fact that the Roman Catholics translate the word God in their Malay language paper the Herald as ' Allah. Of late, violence has erupted and a few days ago some churches were attacked with firebombs; one was extensively damaged. The religious extremists are determined to inflict their views on others. Malaysia, like India, is a multi-religious society and by and large it has remained peaceful except when violence had erupted in late 1960s between the Malays and the Chinese.

All multi-religious societies experience inter-communal or inter-religious tensions in some or more degrees. Malays constitute about 60 per cent of Malaysia’s population. In Malaysia, Malays and Muslims have become synonymous. As mostly weaker sections of society end up embracing Islam in the hope of equality and justice, in Malaysia too, poorer sections turned to Islam. Malays till recently were poor and backward. However, now most of them are well educated and economically better off.

The Malays who oppose the use of word 'Allah' by Christians argue that this will confuse ordinary Malays and in view of missionary activities of Catholic Christians, they may convert to Christianity and they want to ward off this confusion among Malays. This may have its own rationale but the problem has to be solved through dialogue and mutual understanding. The real problem, however, is that some politicians would like to exploit such controversies to their benefit.

In fact those who object to the use of the word 'Allah' by Christians are on weak grounds. As Allah is one and creator of all of us, it cannot be monopolized by any one religious, much less linguistic, community. The word 'Allah' in Arabic was in use before Islam appeared on the scene in Mecca. As Maulana Azad points out in his Tarjuman al-Qur’an, the word 'Allah' is derived linguistically from pre-Islamic ‘eel’ as in Jibra’il or Israf’il etc. The word is Hebrew was also iloh or ilah and by adding ‘al’ (which in English is used for ‘the’), al-ilah (the God) thus became 'Allah' in Arabic and was used for supreme God.

In fact, Muslims should welcome if non-Muslims too use the word Allah for God or Ishwar etc. How can one object to use of 'Allah' by others? Anyone who learns Arabic and talks about God will have to use the word Allah. All Christian Arabs freely use word 'Allah' in countries like Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon etc. No one objects to the use of the word. At least I do not know whether any Muslim Arab ever objected to such use.

I was in Lebanon in the late 19 90s for a Christian-Muslim dialogue and we decided to visit the mosque on Friday and a church on Sunday. We Muslims offered salah (prayer) on Friday and Christians sat in one place till the prayer was over and we discussed with the imam of the mosque certain inter-communal problems. Similarly we Muslims sat and observed while the Christians in the group participated in the service in the church on Sunday. The priest who was delivering the sermon in Arabic was using the word 'Allah' only and had a rosary (tasbih) in his hand, just like the Imam in the mosque. If a curtain had been drawn between us and the priest I would have felt as if the Imam in the mosque was delivering khutba in the mosque. Of course, there were theological differences but otherwise the Arabic language made us feel one.

As I always maintain, any language exists prior to any religion and not otherwise. A religion uses a language which pre-exists it. More than one religious community can use the same language and terminology of both the religions would appear very similar. In fact in Lebanon Christians have rendered yeoman service to Arabic language and it is Christians who have prepared the dictionary of modern Arabic Al-Munjid which is consulted by all Arab scholars of modern Arabic.

No language can be the monopoly of any one religious community. In India too, many Hindus learnt Arabic and Persian which was the court language and they fluently spoke Persian and even wrote poetry in Persian like Chandrabhan Brahman. There were several first rate Urdu poets who were and still are Hindus and they use words like ‘Khuda and Allah in their poetry. How can one object to that?

And as for the fear that the use of the word 'Allah' by Christians would confuse Malay Muslims and they may convert to Christianity, it is not a well grounded fear. Only those who feel their religion is followed without much conviction can entertain such fears. And for the Malays, their very identity and existence is based on Islam and as pointed out above, Malay and Muslims have become identical. How can then such fear be justified?

When one Malay Muslim had converted from Islam a few years ago, there was such a hue and cry -- a Shariah court sentenced her and she had to revert to Islam. Given these circumstances, how can such a fear be justified that there will be mass conversion to Christianity? And in a modern democratic society one cannot stop conversion through fear of law. If any one converts to other religion it is between him/her and Allah. In matters religious, one is answerable only to God, not to any human being.

However, the matter is really not religious but political. The majority community feels it would be reduced to minority and hence it resists any conversion to other religions. In India, the Hindutva forces are enacting laws in the BJP ruled states to stop Hindus converting to other religions like Christianity or Islam but welcome if any Muslim or Christian converts to Hinduism. Thus political benefit and not conversion is the issue. In a truly democratic society what matters is democratic and fundamental rights, not conversion to or from majority community religion. It should be purely an individual decision whether to convert to or from any one religion to another religion. Otherwise our democratic rights would be in great danger.

And as rightist forces and extremists make a big issue out of nothing to create a scare against the minorities, the rightwing extremists in Malaysia also have tried to create such a controversy. And as in India when the BJP raised such a controversy about Ramjanambhoomi temple, the Congress government under Narsimha Rao allowed the Babri Masjid to be demolished. The Malaysian government too is scared and is afraid of implementing the High Court judgment for the time being.

Any multi-religious or multi-cultural democracy does not work smoothly or in an ideal way. Even advanced western countries are facing problems of inter-religious tensions. In France there is often tension between African Muslims and the white French. It is not so much religious but economic and political; also rightist forces are behind such eruptions.

Recently the French government of Sarkozy, which is rightist in ideology, has proposed a ban on the burqa and it proposes to impose a fine of 750 Euros -- not a minor sum -- on anyone found wearing one. Now, it is ridiculous for an advanced democracy to dictate what one should or should not wear. The French rightist government has denounced the burqa as a ‘prison’ but the point is that even if it is, it is not the business of the government to dictate the nature of dress. However, the socialist left is opposing such a ban though they also consider the burqa quite undesirable. They, however, do not consider it desirable to ban it. Thus, after all, it is not secularism which is in danger, as the French government would have us believe, but its own political power. Just as a religion cannot be in danger because of the misdeeds of a few extremists, secularism cannot be in danger just because a few women -- of their own volition -- wear the burqa in France -- and yet we see how the French government is creating a scare and how it is dealing with the subject.

In many countries with multi-religious structure, the right wing among religious majority community has been suppressing the voice of reason successfully. The moderates are being silenced by creating a mass hysteria. There is great need for civil society to play its role and support enlightened policies. Most of the moderate intellectuals have no time or interest to study the issue in depth and become victims of high pitched propaganda.

We need what we call public intellectuals who raise the voice of reason and take a public stand even risking their own reputation, or even career. Most of our moderate intellectuals argue why we should bother about such things and give way to the extremist forces. We should always be ready, like Bertrand Russell, Jean Paul Sartre or Noam Chomsky to fearlessly criticize the powers that be in keeping with our conviction. A conviction which does not inspire you to speak out irrespective of consequences is no conviction Be it the controversy about ' Allah' or the burqa or the crime of the Zionists or the rigidity of orthodoxy. That alone can save democracy.
www.outlookindia.com | No Monopoly On Allah
 

enlightened1

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8482267.stmhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8482267.stm

Several severed pigs' heads have been found in mosque compounds in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. The national police chief Musa Hassan linked the discoveries to recent attacks on various houses of worship. Pigs are considered unclean by Muslims and their presence in the mosque compound will be taken as an insult. In recent weeks, 11 churches, one Sikh temple and some Muslim prayer halls have been vandalised amid a row over non-Muslims' use of the word Allah.

Religious tensions in Malaysia have increased since a court ruled last month that a Roman Catholic newspaper could use the word Allah in its Malay-language edition to describe the Christian god.

Aggravation

"By looking at the modus operandi of the two incidents... I think it is the same group that is involved in the previous attacks," said Musa Hassan. AFP reported the police chief saying he believed the attacks were being funded by a group that was attempting to worsen tensions in Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation which is also home to large ethnic Chinese and Indian communities. "I think they are throwing money (to those carrying out the attacks) to cause such incidents," he told reporters."Don't play with fire, I will not compromise on the security of the country. Please do not provoke the public or any parties to undermine the security of the country," he added. At least one severed pig's head was found at the Taman Dato Harun mosque in a nearby district, said the mosque's prayer leader, Hazelaihi Abdullah.

The police chief confirmed this incident and said two others were left at the nearby Al Imam al Tirmizi mosque. Separately, Zulkifli Mohamad, the top official at the Sri Sentosa Mosque on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, said men arriving for early morning prayers found two bloodied pigs' heads in plastic bags in the compound. "We feel this is an evil attempt by some people to aggravate tensions," Mr Zulkifli told The Associated Press. No-one has been hurt in the series of attacks on various houses of worship since the 31 December court ruling which allowed non-Muslims to use the word Allah as a translation for God. Police have arrested 19 people in connection with the attacks so far. Correspondents say some of Malaysia's majority Muslim community suspect Christians of wanting to use the word Allah to encourage Muslims to convert to Christianity.

Analysts say the controversy has been stoked by hard-line elements within Malay Muslim political groups to assert Malay primacy in a shifting political scene. The government has appealed against the ruling, in contrast to countries like Indonesia, Egypt and Syria where Christian minorities freely use the Arabic word to refer to God.
 

amoy

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Long long ago a senior guy told us as green horns - never discuss with others (namely strangers alike) about 2 things, one is religion the other is...

At that time I didn't get the point... now I've come to see interreligious delicacy...

I was told that in Malaysia there's even a quota in universities set for indigenous Malays who're the majority followed by Chinese and Indians in the population instead of by academic performance. Is it true?
 

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