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“Allah” can be discussed calmly

(Corrected at 4:38pm, 12 Jan 2010)

KUALA LUMPUR, 12 Jan 2010: Malaysians are mature enough to openly discuss issues without resorting to violence, said the organiser of an 11 Jan 2010 public forum on the “Allah” issue.

Despite being told by police to cancel last night’s forum following the spate of attacks on churches, the event organisers decided to go ahead with the public discussion.

“We were sure that the forum would be a means to encourage discussion and there would be no provocation or violence, so we decided to go ahead and make it a success,” Free Public Forum coordinator Shake Omar Ali told The Nut Graph.

The forum, titled ‘Allah’: Siapa yang punya?, was co-organised by Free Public Forum, (corrected) Persatuan Mahasiswa Islam Universiti Malaya, and the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) Youth.

“We did get a bit of police pressure,” said Shake Omar. “The police said the programme should be stopped because it would stir up racial and religious problems and sentiment.”

Audience members commenting and asking questions during the forum

However, Shake Omar said he was convinced based on past experience that Malaysians would be rational and mature enough when discussing controversial issues.

“This is the third forum we have organised. The first was on Islam and democracy, and the second was on [the whipping sentence] of Kartika [Sari Dewi Shukarno]. Both were also like this forum: calm, with different opinions shared. For example, on Kartika, we invited the Islamists as well as Sisters in Islam to share their view,” he said.

Debating the “Allah” issue

The four-hour long forum last night at the KLSCAH was attended by approximately 900 people. The event proceeded calmly despite the divergent arguments that were presented.

“‘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.”

Mohd Farid
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.”

“Should the English word ‘God’ be translated as ‘Allah’ in Bahasa Malaysia?” said Muslim evangelist Shah Kirit Kakulal Govindji. “Don’t Christians understand what ‘Tuhan’ means?”

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.

“Setiap perkara bermula dengan tidak biasa. Bila dah biasa, hilang bisanya,” Azwira said.

He cited the example of the Yang-di-Pertuan Agong being called “Yang Maha Mulia”, which is a term used for God. “Malay [Malaysians] can differentiate between Yang Maha Mulia Raja and Yang Maha Mulia Allah. This is because they have accepted it as normal.”

“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.”

Writer Hasmi Hashim read from the writings of Malay literature legend Munshi Abdullah, who used “Allah” to mean “God” when he translated the Bible into Malay 150 years ago.

Shake Omar said he was satisfied with the forum and hoped to organise more of such discussions to advocate diversity and celebrate plurality.

For related stories, see In the Spotlight: Political Islam

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7 Responses to ““Allah” can be discussed calmly”

  1. Hon Yau says:

    I would like to commend Shake Omar Ali for initiating this forum. The display of civilility and rationality among Malaysians from different races & religion speaks so much louder than the acts of violence and hatred. Such platform that provides space for people to listen and learn from each other (even agreeing to disagree) should definitely be further encouraged.

  2. Sivin Kit says:

    The public forum dispelled the myth that the Malaysian public and especially the Malay Muslims cannot engage in a civil dialogue on so-called “sensitive” issues. It was refreshing to see the diversity of views on the panel, which consisted of six Muslims and one Hindu.

    What is also interesting is that this is a ground-up civil society initiative without the involvement and the interference of the government. This shows that the common people, and in this case the younger generation, have taken ownership and responsibility to demonstrate that it can be done!

    A round of applause for the organisers and participants!

  3. Habib RAK says:

    For those who are denying Allah can be used by all from a historical language perspective, I simply have this questions to ask. The objective of the revelation is to guide and inform the people. Thus, when the revelations came to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), surely it would be in the language of the day. Imagine if the revelations were in Hokkien, Tamil or any other language other than the language of the day in the Arabian peninsula. How could the people at that time understand the teachings of Islam? The explanations given by YB Khalid Samad and others with similar views are clear and logical. To those who are opposed to it, we shall continue to explain until you understand. Btw, all Muslims are actually encouraged to bring the deen to all mankind. If you restrict it and say it’s exclusive to only Muslims, surely it’s against what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did. He actually preached to the non-Muslims at that time. Right?

  4. Hwa Shi-Hsia says:

    All books by Munshi Abdullah should be banned because he’s confusing. (Just kidding!)

  5. N K NARAYANAN says:

    Wow, [this is] something I never expected to read in Malaysia!!
    Wow, all of you are really great!!

  6. Wan Adli says:

    Dear YB Khalid Samad (and any Muslim who is with him on this),

    In the Allah issue, it seems as if you agree with the use of the name Allah by the Catholic Church to name their Trinity God. This implies that you could conceptualise another thing, beside the One Real-True God, worthy of the name Allah. So, I would like to ask you a question from the Quran, chapter Maryam (19), verse 65, “hal ta‘lam lahu samiyya?”, the translation is “do you know of any who is worthy of the same Name as He?”

  7. Azizi Khan says:

    There is also a greater question that needs to be asked :

    Is Allah a Muslim God, or a Muslim *Malay* God ? The reason being, no other Muslim, anywhere around the world seems to be facing this unique problem! If we restrict the usage of Allah in Malaysia, this would mean only Malay Muslims can use Allah and there by this would be blasphemous!


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