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BN-style resolution to “Allah” issue

WORD is, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is mightily concerned about the “Allah” issue and wants the matter resolved.

Forgive me, but it’s hard to believe this, based on the public statements the government has been making. Honestly, how can we believe that the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) government under Najib’s leadership is sincere about resolving the issue of who can use “Allah”?

Indeed, apart from Najib, at least three other cabinet members have publicly displayed a lack of respect, knowledge, or even intelligence about the issues at stake.

Dialogue BN-style

First off is Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom, who calls for interfaith dialogue but in the same breath tells church leaders to drop their claim to use “Allah” to refer to God.

To substantiate his argument, reported on 11 Jan 2010, Jamil Khir declared that “church leaders must have deep understanding of the situation and history” about the use of “Allah” in Malaysia.

The following day, Jamil Khir was quoted again as calling for dialogue, and highlighting the initiatives by agencies such as the Institute of Islamic Understanding. But the minister’s call was made together with his call for the different states’ religious authorities to challenge the High Court decision that allowed non-Muslims the right to use the word. Jamil Khir also lauded the Selangor sultan‘s statement about the state’s prohibition against the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims.

At the very least, Jamil Khir is clueless about what a dialogue is and how it works. Dialogue, as experts in conflict resolution will share, can be a powerful tool, but only if it embodies a deep and respectful listening of what is important to the different stakeholders. Meaningful dialogue only happens when all parties are treated as equals. It does not happen when one party is more powerful than the others and has already dictated what results are expected of the dialogue.

Hence, Jamil Khir’s proposal for an interfaith dialogue is either a half-baked public relations exercise to demonstrate that the Malaysian government is fair to all, or, Allah help us all, the minister doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Worse still, it’s both.

No matter — when a minister repeatedly declares that the government is right in stripping away the rights of minority groups, one has to pause to wonder just how sincere the BN government is.

And when a minister extols others to have “deep understanding” of the history of the use of “Allah” in Malaysia, but clearly demonstrates ignorance about the historical and cultural use of the word, one has to protest. Is this the kind of leadership the nation needs governing our country?

Safety BN-style

Then, of course, there was the downplaying of the attacks on non-Muslim places of worship. “Everything is under control,” declared Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein on 11 Jan 2010, even though by then there were eight churches that had been targeted. And Hishammuddin said this even though the Inspector General of Police had announced that the police force could not guarantee the safety of churches in Malaysia.

Of course, Hishammuddin’s declaration proved faulty when four other churches were subsequently targeted. Additionally, two suraus became arson targets on 21 Jan even though it could not be ascertained if the arson attempts were related to the attack on churches.

And so, what was even more troubling about the home minister was his description of the suburban terrorism happening in modern-day Malaysia. “This is just a small case and only the front door was damaged by splashed petrol,” Hishammuddin said of the Sidang Injil Borneo church in Seremban.

Now, I’ve argued before that Hishammuddin should be sacked for his incompetence. But when the prime minister also downplays the seriousness of the attacks by calling them a “minor aberration”, we really have to stop in our tracks and demand for some answers.

How can the seemingly systematic targeting of churches be “small” or “minor”? It cannot feel like a minor aberration to the community that is being attacked, especially when the state has told them specifically that it cannot guarantee protection.

And really, how different is Najib and Hishammuddin’s statements from a patriarchal society telling women that being sexually harassed is but a small matter? When violence is committed, it is never a “minor aberration” for those being targeted. Indeed, it is to the advantage of the party holding power to downplay the seriousness of the violation in order to continue perpetuating violence.

There is no doubt that the churches were attacked, regardless of whether the attackers were successful in starting a fire. There is also no doubt that the church’s right to use “Allah” is being attacked by the same government that claims it wants dialogue. Hence, unless the Najib administration learns to acknowledge this and respect the feelings of those whose safety are being violated, I have no reason to be convinced of the government’s intention to resolve the “Allah” issue.

Fairness BN-style

Another Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz also gave us all just cause to screech to a halt when he declared that the issue could be resolved if “Allah” was used in Sabah and Sarawak only, but not in the peninsula.

Why? Because peninsular Muslims are insular? And weak in their faith compared to Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak?

Because we may be one nation, but we are actually two countries?

How does this suggestion even resolve the issue of what right the BN government has, through the Home Ministry, to deny non-Muslims the right to use a word that pre-dates Islam and for which Muslims don’t own copyright over?

Let’s be clear. Muslims don’t own the word “Allah”. They never have. And Muslims elsewhere face no confusion over the use of the word by non-Muslims and are, in fact, bemused by the Malaysian government’s actions.

Clearly, Nazri’s suggestion is a half-baked one. It tells us that the minister has no respect for the rights of peninsula-based non-Muslims — even if they are from Sabah and Sarawak — to worship in the national language as they have done for generations.

Whither Najib?

What will it take for me to be convinced of the Najib administration’s sincerity in resolving the issue fairly?

First, the government needs to admit it was wrong. There is no historical, cultural or scriptural basis for the ban they have imposed on the Catholic church from using “Allah”. Second, drop the court appeal against the High Court decision. Third, stop pandering to the ignorant and fearful among Muslim pressure groups, whether within or outside the administration.  

And finally, learn respect. Respect for the legitimate concerns and rights of all Malaysians. Respect for the fact that the government must represent all Malaysians, and not just the majority. And respect that the electorate deserves intelligent and honest leadership.

Jacqueline Ann Surin is not convinced that the Barisan Nasional is capable of doing what is right over the “Allah” issue. She wonders why the government is undermining the “national unity” and “mutual respect” among different communities, which the prime minister says has been the nation’s cornerstone, through its words and deeds.

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24 Responses to “BN-style resolution to “Allah” issue”

  1. DL says:

    BN/Umno wants to get back the support of the Malays/Muslims. Using this issue, the Malays will likely swing back to Umno in the next election. BN/Umno will do ANYTHING to retain power!

  2. Sivin Kit says:

    Strange how admitting one is wrong is seen as a sign of weakness. When in fact, it’s the sign of sincerity and maturity.

    We’re all waiting to see how the whole mess can be turned to something beautiful. At least, that’s what many of us are working hard to do (in spite of accusations otherwise!).

  3. Respect is a word not found in the vocabulary of the BN government. They will do anything it takes to stay in power, even if it means stepping on the rights of every Malaysian, Bumi or non-Bumi, Muslim or non-Muslim.

    By their own words and actions, our “leaders” have proven that they are not only incompetent at their jobs, they are also recklessly irresponsible in their actions. We can only thank the majority of Malaysians who chose to turn the other cheek and thus prevent this issue from exploding into violence and mayhem.

    It is pretty obvious we cannot count on our Prime Minister and his hand-picked Cabinet to assure the basic rights of every Malaysian. Heck, we can’t even count on them NOT to instigate racial and religious tensions in this country.

    Why would any right-thinking Malaysian want to keep them in power for another term? Say NO when you vote at the next general elections!

  4. MarinaM says:

    Also today there were news reports that a panel of Islamic experts had decided that it was wrong to call Allah ‘God’. This was the panel discussion organised by IKIM. No reporters were allowed in the discussion, only to the press conference where Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi issued the statement.

    A closer look at the experts would leave you puzzled. Included in the list are people like Ustaz Hadi of PAS, Dr Mohd Nur Manuty of PKR and Dr Asri, former mufti of Perlis. None of them support the banning of the use of Allah by non-Muslims. So I checked with Dr Asri and found that it was a clear misreporting of what went on. “We discussed whether non-Muslims had the right to use the word Allah” he told me, ” not about theological issues and whether the Islamic concept of God was correct and the Christian one was wrong.” And his argument, along with Hadi’s and Manuty’s was, yes they have the right.

    So IKIM is being dishonest in issuing the statement. In fact they seem to be saying that the concept of God in Islam is ALSO dependent on the cultural reality in Malaysia. Surely that is blasphemous.

  5. headsup says:

    “Learn respect” — you nailed it right on the head!

    Tired of always hearing these jerks asking for a “compromise”, which is always one way.

    Having lived abroad for the last 10 years, I can appreciate how dumb these ministers are. With their low IQ, I wouldn’t even hire them to run the car park in my office!

  6. MXV says:

    Darkest times in Malaysia and their conscience is dead numb. PM, DPM, Home Ministry… have all gone increasingly ignorant, arrogant and ill-prepared to lead a failing govt.

  7. cheah sing hwa says:

    Dialogue? Don’t place any high hopes for it to solve the issue amicably.

  8. Hippopocritimus says:

    “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.”
    – Galileo Galilei

    “Science is HIS authored dictionary”

    I named HIM “ENERGY”, what’s the problem?

  9. Nicholas Aw says:

    Great article Jacqueline. The BN/Umno government are leading the country to the graves.

    I remember during my childhood days in the late Fifties watching the Three Stooges on the telly and now the likes of the Three Stooges are being depicted by the three main characters in your article.

    In fact, I believe that peace and harmony still prevail because of the tolerance of Malaysians generally but things are getting to the boil due to the irresponsible politicians from both sides of the political divide with the majority coming from the ruling government.

    PKR may not be the best alternative to the BN but at least they are the lesser of two evils. Nonetheless, credit must be given to them especially in managing Penang and Selangor and I believe that PKR should be given a chance to show what they are capable of. After more than 50 years of then Alliance and now BN rule and seeing the country in such a dilapidated state, we should obviously vote for the opposition in the next GE.

  10. Azizi Khan says:

    BN and the Malay [Malaysian] ultras are at a loss at the moment. Never before have they had non-Malay Muslims standing up for their rights. Never before have they had all races including Malay [Malaysians] come together in solidarity over the Allah issue.

    BN cannot have this. Their standard operating procedure is to keep people divided. BN intends [for] this issue to bring back Malay [Malaysians] to UMNO, but it backfired and left them red-faced. Not only that, they also are [not] losing their support in Sabah and Sarawak, plus the non-Malay support in Malaysia.

    Funny thing is – Najib will actually get his 1Malaysia – but not the way he imagined it. Finally, it’s no surprise that BN ministers said what they did about the Allah issue. Intelligence it seems, is never a requirement to be a BN minister – especially for the post of Home Minister…


  11. siew eng says:

    Love all your thought bubbles!

  12. La'ah Aren says:

    Speaking the truth without fear or favour for the national and common good, (in what you are doing) is most commendable. This is the stuff of a patriot and never should be debased nor hounded.

    Government must be run on justice and rule of law, and not based on worries about “confusion” or the “sensitivities” of a people, although it should be mindful of those things. If you do that, government will constantly be blackmailed by emotional rabble-rousing, and that will pose grave problems for a nation on the path towards further socio-economic development and developed status by 2020.

    For centuries Arabs of both faiths who used the word “Allah” have never been confused and have lived peaceably, and it is the same with our neighbour Indonesia, with whom we share [a similar culture]. In Sarawak, where the bumiputeras of Christian faith live together with Malay/Melanau/bumiputera Muslims, sometimes in the same family, there has never been any issue for many generations that the word “Allah” couldconfuse either adherents. Christians are as sure of their God, “Allah” as their Muslim brethrens of their one God “Allah”. YAB Pehin Sri Hj Abdul Taib bin Mahmud, for example, educated in Christian schools, brought up with Catholic relatives, has never been confused and is now presiding a Muslim dakwah organisation for the South East Asian Region – Perkim, established by none other than YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, our first Prime Minister.

    On the other hand, many bumiputera Christians like me, who have Muslim relatives, have never been confused by Muslims calling their God “Allah”. You could name many Muslims, mighty or downtrodden, urbanites or rural folks, like the Attorney General Tan Sri Ghani Patail from Sabah, who continue to be steadfast in their faith and not easily confused, even when they hear Christians refer to their God as “Allah”. Neither do we enforce our beliefs on others. God convicts us, not men.

    Resolving the issue by respectful discussion will bring the temperature down, otherwise it may escalate further. After all, the people truly affected by the banning of the use of the word are the bumiputera Malay-speaking Christians from East Malaysia. Up to now, the issue has been perceived as the Herald’s right to publication, Catholic and West Malaysia. The Sabah and Sarawak bumiputera will be talking about their constitutional and spiritual birthright to freedom of worship. The Malaysian Agreement of 1962, enshrined in the Malaysian constitution safeguards these rights. No ministerial decision, including the conference of Rulers, disavowing these entrenched rights will be sustainable. (Remember the recent case of children of bumiputera fathers marrying non-bumiputeras arbitrarily not deemed by the Federal Government to be bumiputera and eligible for education scholarships.)

    Malayan Muslims could afford never to feel insecure in Malaysia where they have the power and there are also enough provisions in the constitution to safeguard their rights. It is illegal to convert Malay Muslims to other religions, including Christianity, and there are provisions to deal with such cases. Hence prohibiting bumiputera Christians from praying to, and submitting to “Allah” is unwarranted. After all, isn’t the the God of Abraham, as spelt out in the Quran and the Bible brought by Syriac/Aramaic/Arabic languages, called “Allah”. Talk about wrong interpretation of God into Bahasa Malaysia is just irrational and spurius. Demanding that the word “Allah” is reserved for Malayan Malay-Muslims because of their historical use and Malayan Malay majority environment, is arbitrary and unjust, and nothing but blatant tyranny of the majority.

    What this means is that the minority bumiputera Christians’ historical use, their constitutional rights, international usage, edicts from the Quran, are of no importance and must be subverted for Malayan Muslim dominance as per Umno’s demand. I say this because an equivalent number of Malayan Muslims of different religio-political persuasions (PAS and PKR), not to mention Sarawak and Sabah Malay Muslims, do not subscribe to the action

    Just imagine how would I, a Sarawak bumiputera Christian, tell my father and grandfather who have been praying to “Allah” for years, as their ancesters have been, to stop calling his God “Allah”, and refrain from receiving communication, oral and written – (e.g. Bibles and tapes from Indonesia, teaching and news from Herald,) where the word “Allah” is used.

    I would like to remind those who rule us that it is “Allah” who puts you up and also takes you down. You are to administer justice in His name for all, not favouring only your own. May He grant you wisdom and resolve to do what is fair, right and just for our beloved country.

  13. waste says:

    What a waste of time and effort. Try something else more interesting than condemning the BN …

  14. anzee says:

    When the Umno-led government has a judgement in their favour, they ask the loser to accept it… but when it’s not in their favour, they jump up and down like a monkey fed with chilli padi, saying that the High Court made judgement errors and was not sensitive to the feelings of the Malay [Malaysans]. Why do we need a judiciary? Use the law of the jungle instead, since we find it hard to accept the decision of the law of the land.

  15. tinker says:

    Maybe Malaysia Islam is diverging into another Muslim sect. We have the Shi’ites, and the Sunni… now, BNites, Umni…

  16. CS says:

    Thanks Marina for caring to make that clarification. My heart sank when I first read about the press statement by Badawi. Not as a Christian, or as a Muslim, but as a Malaysian concerned about the continuous onslaught on our constitutional rights.

  17. Steve says:

    How can anyone who professes to believe in the One God try to deny others the right to address that god (in respect) in prayer, writings, or even in public? Does anyone remember “Thou shalt not use the Name of the Lord thy God in vain”. This is in scripture common to both Muslims and Christians. Using it to as the centrepoint in ethnic problems, and as a rallying point and for attacks on mosques or churches, Muslims and Christians seems to be doing just that. It is simply wrong, morally, ethically and religiously. Is that really where we are now?

  18. mike7 says:

    It was very bold of the Catholic church to seek a judicial review to overturn the wrongful abuse of power by bigoted officials in the Home Ministry that infringed on our [constitutional rights]. Unless and until someone can present good, accurate and acceptable reasons otherwise, the government should stand down and withdraw its appeal. Internationally and locally, Malaysia would then be able to progress on to become a more mature society.

  19. Elllese A says:

    This is a stupid article. How come you never consider how it’s used by Malay [Malaysians] here? Do you use BM at all? Do you have Malay-Muslim [Malaysian] friends? All my Muslim friends without exception are mad about this? You can consider the Christians’ so-called generations [of] history but not [ours] which is much longer? You can’t even empathize but [you can] call for dialogue. […]. Let us have a referendum on this issue to settle it, […].

  20. PushpaR says:

    Thank you for instilling my faith in truth — it is so distorted these days that it makes you wonder whether truth is universal or invented. It is a sad day for Malaysia and its citizens when religion and race are used repeatedly to “defend” the rights of the majority. Surely the minority have a place in the country of their birth, or is the Federal Constitution merely a doctrine for manipulation by the majority? So many questions, but the answers vary according to the individual’s version of truth. How can we call ourselves Malaysians when we are constantly reminded that we are not Malay, not Muslims, not Indians, not Chinese, not bumiputera, etc. Are we one? I fear not…

  21. dominik says:

    Even the MCA, MIC, Gerakan and East Malaysian BN parties have been keeping very quiet about this topic. Aren’t there any Christians in these parties, or are they scared of losing their posts if they were to comment and support the use of the “A” word? May God have mercy on these “illusioned” Christians.

  22. ahoo says:

    Religion and politics cannot be mixed. This is a deadly brew and those politicians with evil intentions know that. Those power hungry and greedy ones will manipulate the issue to stay in perpetual power. That said, let us face that day as we cannot avoid it. Man proposes, but ultimately it is God that disposes.

  23. Daisy Sheppard says:

    I too have given up hope in the BN with its current batch of idiot leaders helming the country. Am greatly appreciative of the time and effort you took to write this article. Well done! Am so looking forward to GE13 to play my role in kicking the BN out. And thanks to MarinaM for the clarification.

  24. fairview says:

    I think this is a one-sided game played by a very particular political party, and like many games, if without an opponent, the one player will not be kept interested for long. So it will eventually die down. If other political parties join in the game, it will turn out to be a huge thing. I don’t think anyone has any real idea how it could be, or how things can be controlled without collateral damage. Think about it.

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