LEST we forget, the source of the Allah controversy that resulted in churches, and a Catholic school, being torched and threatened did not begin on the streets. It did not begin with narrow-minded and ignorant Muslim pressure groups threatening to spill blood to assert their sole right to use “Allah”.
Lest we forget, it began with the 1986 government ban on the use by non-Muslims of the word “Allah”, and three others — “solat”, “Kaabah” and “Baitullah”. That’s the Barisan Nasional (BN) government we are talking about, the one that Umno leads.
Hence, lest we forget, the issue of non-Muslims using the word “Allah” would not be an issue at all in Malaysia if the Umno-led government had, to begin with, respected the legitimate rights of other faith communities. The “Allah” issue would not have spiraled into, to quote a friend, suburban terrorism — and it is terrorism when violence and intimidation are used towards achieving one’s goals — if the Home Ministry had not acted to deny the rights of non-Muslim citizens in the first place.
Today, in the aftermath of churches being torched and threatened, we hear Umno leaders, most notably Prime Minister and party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak denying that Umno is responsible for the situation we find ourselves in. We hear BN leaders condemning the violence committed against churches throughout the country. But as a lawyer friend commented on Twitter on 8 Jan 2010: “If you inflame passions, you cannot condemn violence.”
Doing what’s right
We know historically and culturally that firstly, “Allah” predates Islam; and secondly that it is used by non-Muslims in other Muslim countries with no restriction. So, the government is responsible for this narrow-minded and bigoted interpretation of who can use “Allah” in Malaysia. And by continuing to defend its position through a court appeal, the government is the one responsible for perpetuating the notion that Muslim rights will always supersede non-Muslim rights no matter if it is illogical, irrational or unconstitutional.
Are we surprised then that some groups will resort to acts of terrorism in Malaysia in order to assert their superiority at all costs? With the kind of government we have today — one that consistently does little to delegitimise violence in the name of Malay and Muslim superiority — I’m not at all surprised that there are those who think they can get away with using fear and intimidation to strip others of their rights. After all, the government is already doing it.
And even in this particular issue, Najib and his Umno ministers continue to resist doing the right thing instead of kow-towing to and fanning the flames of ignorance and fear among the bigots in our midst.
No more dialogue
But really, the time for dialogue is over. Meaningful dialogue can only happen when all parties to the dialogue are treated as equals. In the current scenario, I’ll wager that any “dialogue” will involve non-Muslims acceding to the perceived “sensitivities” and assumed rights of Muslims to own copyright to the word “Allah”.
And mind you, the use of the word “Allah” is not a “sensitive” issue, as top Umno leaders and the Umno-backed Utusan Malaysia are fond of restating repeatedly. It’s a copyright issue. And there is nothing at all that gives Muslims in Malaysia, or elsewhere, the copyright to use the word to refer to God and deny others the right to do so.
Indeed, there have been Muslims who demand that Christians should use the word “Tuhan” instead of “Allah” so that Muslims won’t be confused. But if Christians and Sikhs have not been confused thus far from the use of “Allah” in their worship, what makes Malaysian Muslims so special that the government should continue to perpetuate their ignorance about a word that pre-dates Islam?
Additionally, since copyright for the word does not belong to Muslims, what right do Muslim groups and politicians have to demand that non-Muslims can only use “Tuhan” and not “Allah”?
Instead of an interfaith dialogue where non-Muslims are likely to be asked to compromise on their rights to protect the false sensitivities of some Muslims, here’s what I would like to see happen. If Najib’s administration is really sincere about 1Malaysia, I would like to see the government host public forums and seminars for Muslims who may be confused about the word “Allah”.
Really, what’s stopping the Umno-led government from wanting to educate the ummah? Islam, after all, brought enlightenment to those who lived during zaman jahiliyah — the age of ignorance. If Umno is such a champion of Malay Muslims, why is it perpetuating this age of ignorance instead of educating Muslims while simultaneously respecting the rights of non-Muslims? Why is it enforcing the ban and appealing the High Court decision that nullified the ban when it is even stated in the Quran that “Allah” doesn’t just belong to Muslims?
Perchance the home minister, who was from Umno in 1986 when the ban was gazetted, and continues to be from Umno, is ignorant about historical fact and constitutional rights? Or perhaps Umno would rather Muslims remained ignorant? Or perhaps, Umno just doesn’t care about the legitimate rights of non-Muslims no matter the rhetoric about 1Malaysia?
The West often likes to describe Malaysia as a “moderate Muslim state“. We are far from it. We have become a fascist state under BN rule. How so? Well, a state that actively and aggressively promotes racial and religious superiority is no different from the Nazi state that asserted that the Aryans were superior to the Jews. And the systematic use of violence, fear and draconian laws to diminish and suppress the legitimate rights of minority groups can only be described as fascist.
The BN will, of course, deny responsibility for the way the “Allah” issue is playing out. The government will provide financial aid to churches to prove to Christians that it does not condone these acts of violence. It will now be open to interfaith forums, where before it banned any such attempts by groups such as Article 11.
Too little too late, I’m afraid. Make no mistake: the BN government started this. And by denying culpability now and stubbornly refusing to do what is right despite the historical, cultural and religious evidence, the BN is responsible for the rising fascism in our midst.
Is this the kind of Malaysia we want to live in?
Is this the kind of government we want?
Jacqueline Ann Surin thinks peace-loving citizens should set the benchmarks for what constitutes 1Malaysia instead of letting the government spin its public relations exercise. What would you like to see happening for you to believe that Najib’s 1Malaysia is for real?
Read previous Shape of a Pocket columns