Categorised | Letters to the Editor

Let Catholic weekly run in Malay

EVEN though the Home Ministry recently approved the publication permit for the Herald – the Catholic Weekly, only publication in English, Tamil, and Chinese is allowed. Publication of the weekly’s Malay language version has been held back, pending a court decision on the use of the word “Allah”.

While my Christian friends applaud the decision to renew the permit, they are understandably upset over the prohibition to publish the weekly in Malay. This, they say, is due to the fact that the majority of Christian Malaysians are in Sabah and Sarawak, and Malay is their first language. The prohibition to publish the weekly in Malay is thus seen as a serious affront on their freedom of religion.

I personally find the position taken by the Home Ministry untenable and see no reason why the Malay language version of the Herald should be put on hold.

I believe all these problems are the result of the ignorance and confusion of Muslims in Malaysia about their own religion. Having lived under the leadership of Umno/Barisan Nasional and its brand of Islam, who can blame them? This misunderstanding is turned into policies that, although well intended — i.e. “for the sake of Islam” — portray a negative image of the religion.

This is akin to the prohibition on women to learn to read and write in the old days, for fear that they would write love letters to men. These women were kept uneducated and ignorant. Islam, on the other hand, demands of its followers, men and women alike, to strive in the pursuit of knowledge.

Addressing misunderstandings

The first misunderstanding is in the false equivalency that “Malay is Islam” and “Islam is Malay”, which makes Malay the language of Muslims. Newsletters in Malay for religions other than Islam is a form of a culture shock for many Muslim Malaysians, who, of course, forget that if any language has a right to claim such a position, it would be Arabic. Yet we find Christian Arabs comfortably delivering sermons in church in Arabic throughout the Arab world. They even use the word “Allah” with no objections from the Muslims there because, as every Arab knows, the word “Allah” means “God”.

The second misconception is that once other religions are presented in the Malay language and the word “Allah” is used for God, Muslims would become confused and susceptible to changing their religion. Although I agree that many Muslims are neither practising nor understanding Islam as well as they should, this weakness cannot be addressed by taking steps that imply an intrinsic weakness within Islam. This only suggests that Islam is unable to hold its ground and argues its case to prove that it is the religion from God, revealed through the prophet Muhammad. The problem has to be addressed by ensuring that Muslims are better educated about their own religion.

The negative and defeatist attitude upon which these “policies” are based will lead to restrictive laws for non-Muslims, curbing their activities for fear of Muslims being influenced and converted. Unfortunately, this would then lead to an impression of Islam being restrictive and oppressive, creating a very negative impression of Islam among non-Muslims. The cost would then be the loss of potentially strong and devout Muslims from among the currently non-Muslim population who genuinely care about religion, truth and God. The Muslim community loses them for the sake of ensuring that weak, uncaring, and peripheral Muslims stay Muslim.

I have always been of the opinion that Muslims must project the beauty and strength of Islam, its emphasis on justice and truth, and its respect for the rights of all communities. Through this, many will come to Islam’s fold. Unfortunately, there are those who do not share this confidence in the ability of Islam, on its own merit, to win over hearts. They become defensive and apologetic. By doing so, they do great injustice to Islam.

I appeal to the Home Minister to reconsider his decision. 

Khalid Samad
PAS MP for Shah Alam

See also: Religious freedom undermined

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6 Responses to “Let Catholic weekly run in Malay”

  1. benzaini says:

    It is true, as indicated by Brother Khalid Samad, PAS MP for Shah Alam, that the word Allah is used by Arab Christians in their sermons and prayers. In Arabic, the word Allah has a special meaning indicating the One and Only God, not any god. Based on the verses of the Quran, even the Arab pagans recognised Allah, but they associated Him with others whom they regarded as lesser gods who could intercede with Allah on their behalf.
    Among the Arab Christians, because of the teachings of Trinity, the word Allah seems to have been reserved for God the Father and not to the others. When referring to Jesus, they use the word “rabb”, a general word for god. Another word for god in Arabic is “ilah”. One should not confuse this last word with the word Allah.
    With regard to the use of the word Allah in Christian literature in Malaysia, I do not know in what context the word is used, but I tend to agree with YB Khalid in this respect. One should not be unduly worried about the use of this word because a Muslim should not be easily swayed by it.
    But the reality in many Muslim communities worldwide is that many Muslims are Muslim only in name because their parents and grandparents were Muslim. They do not consciously become Muslim. They do not understand their religion and, and are not inclined to learn its teachings.
    This is the real and greatest problem faced by Islam today: the ignorance of its adherents about their own religion. Hence they reject Islamic laws and make mockery of other Islamic teachings. To bring Islam to its new glory, the Muslims should be made conscious of their becoming Muslim; they should be made Muslim by intention not through “inheritance”.
    They should learn the teachings of their religion and understand them properly. Only then would they appreciate the bounty Allah has given them and fight and struggle to live in accordance to Allah’s teachings. And the responsibility in achieving this goal is on every Muslims who realises this fact. Allah a’lam.

  2. These are comments of a truly educated member of the Malaysian parliament, without prejudice or whatsoever hidden agenda. It is a perfect perception of the case in question. YB, we are so proud of your real sense.

  3. Karcy says:

    The right to use the name “Allah” is a contested issue not just among Muslims but Christians as well. There are several Christians who oppose the usage of the name “Allah” because they feel uncomfortable with Islam. Sometimes, this discomfort is just mild — as a devout Jew would have towards Christians (whom she would consider followers of a wayward Rabbi) — but often, especially of late, with political tensions walking side-by-side with religious ones, it might actually be hate.

    For those of us who use the name “Allah”, it is because we see it as the Arabic name for Elohim — another Jewish name for God, along with the more popular YHWH. Benzaini, the Jews, too believe that Elohim and YHWH point to the One God, and they, too oppose the Christian Trinitarian concept.

    In any case, thank you Khalid Samad, for this wonderful move bridging the gap between Muslims and Christians in Malaysia. While the tensions may get too tight between us all around the world, I remember that one of the most sacred places in Yerushalayim, the Mount of Olives where Christ is said to have ascended to the Heavens, is both at one and the same time a church and a mosque.

  4. lucia says:

    Me thinks the government already knows very well the word “Allah” is used by Chrisitians, too. Their concern… or so they think… is that Malaysian Muslims might not know it, thus they are paranoid/scared that Muslims who read the Herald (which is highly impossible as Herald is sold in churches only) in Bahasa Melayu might be swayed.

    So, it is true in a way what Benzaini said about how many Muslims are Muslim in name only.

  5. jan says:

    Well done! All Malaysians should be open minded about all religions. If a person is strong in his religion, no matter what, no one can make him change his religion. It’s the weak that are frightened.

  6. kewayzey says:

    I agree with the writer as well. By making non-Muslims comply to rules that are based on the well-being of Muslims, they’ll surely feel robbed off their rights. This is just one example of such happenings. I’m a student in a local university, and a friend of mine was just telling me about how the university administration won’t allow for church vans to enter the campus area, on the grounds that they fear the preaching. Everyone had to gather outside the campus, creating problems for those without transport. Being an East Malaysian Muslim, I always feel abashed by the complaints given to me by my fellow Easterners.


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