Azman W argues against the recent religious propaganda on the ‘Allah’ issue.

In recent days, the unfortunate ‘Allah’ controversy has reappeared yet again, this time manifesting itself in the form of a raid on a Bible-distribution centre by JAIS. As a Muslim, I believe that this is nothing less than a bid to use religious sentiment to spur support for the government, and has nothing to do with Islam at all. Indeed, with Islamic documents as proof, I believe that the recent course of events perpetrated by JAIS and the government go against the tenets of the same religion they claim to be protecting.

But first, let us look at the arguments as to why the word should be banned. IKIM (Institut Kefahaman Islam Malaysia) has published a statement explaining the decision.

The issue is apparently not just religious – it is also linguistic. Since the word ‘Allah’ is from Arabic, Christians using Bahasa Malaysia in their sermons and bibles should use the word ‘Tuhan’ instead. The article also claims that since the word was not historically used by Christians in the region. As they mention in their statement,

“As to the argument that the term “Allah” had been used even before the revelation of the Qur’an and the dawn of Islam, the aforementioned position of the Muslims as it is is not necessarily opposed to such a contention.

Yet, since the contention is primarily a historical one, one cannot simply rely on logic to prove it but rather one should resort to established and authentic historical evidence to support it.

And such historical evidence should at least shed some light on (1) whether or not the term “Allah” was then used by Christians who shared more or less the same beliefs and practices with the present-day Christians, particularly in Malaysia, and (2) whether or not the term “Allah” was then solely used as a proper name.”

So the issue is not only religious and linguistic, but also historical. The statement by IKIM claims that ‘one cannot simply rely on logic’ – but rather historical and linguistic evidence should come into play as well. Prior to the introduction of Islam, Malays never used the word ‘Allah’ as to mean God. What the statement is essentially saying is that Muslims use ‘Allah’ because it is a proper noun, while the Christians may not use it because they are using it as a general noun. But as any linguist can tell you, language is an evolving thing, and today the word ‘Allah’ and ‘Tuhan’ are practically interchangeable.

And who is IKIM (not a linguistic society) to say that Christians using the word ‘Allah’ are using it as a general noun? From a linguistic point of view, IKIM’s statement does not make sense. The Christians who are using the word today did not do so out of spite for Muslims or to cause confusion – they did so because the language or dialect naturally evolved in such a manner.

And incidentally, I, as a Muslim and a Malay, am insulted that the government, IKIM, and JAIS think that we’re so simple as to be confused when a Christian says ‘Allah’. Apparently while the Arabs have lived with this for millennia with no problem, and even the people of Borneo for generations, we in the Peninsular are so weak in our faith that Christians using the word ‘Allah’ is enough to shake us to our core. How many Christians have made the reverse assumption?

Some have gone even further and claimed that Christians do not use the word ‘Allah’ to represent God. It seems they have forgotten the many Arab Christians in the Middle East who use the word in religious and daily conversation. Also, the word for God in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke), is ‘Allaha’.

But even if IKIM claims that linguistically the Christians should not be using the word, what about from a religious standpoint? Remember, not a single authority in support of the recent decision to ban the word uses any Islamic reference to back it up. To quote from the Quran (16:116-17):

“And do not say about what your tongues assert of untruth, “This is lawful and this is unlawful,” to invent falsehood about Allah. Indeed, those who invent falsehood about Allah will not succeed.”

And (66:1):

“O Prophet, why do you prohibit [yourself from] what Allah has made lawful for you, seeking the approval of your wives? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”

While this might not pertain directly to the issue at hand, it is clear that no one can simply prohibit something that God Himself has not prohibited. Since the usage of the word ‘Allah’ by Christians neither affects nor taints Islam (it doesn’t seem to be doing anything in the Arab world), there is no reason for its prohibition. For more evidence, simply look to the Covenant of the Prophet Muhammad – a charter given to a monastery in Mount Sinai by the Prophet, granting protection and privileges to the Christians. To quote one part of it:

“XIII. Excepting this (refers to a previous statement on the poll tax), nothing shall be required of them, according to the express order of God, that says, ‘Do not molest those that have a veneration for the books that are sent from God, but rather in a kind manner give of your good things to them, and converse with them, and hinder everyone from molesting them’ [29:46].”

So according to Prophet Muhammad’s decree, Muslims may not demand anything of Christians (including a change in the use of language), and that we may not violate their rights. But if this is still unacceptable to JAIS, IKIM, and the government, then I advise the Christians to keep their Bibles in their Churches, because,

“VI. Whatever churches they are possessed of, no one is to deprive them of them.”

I hope someone will tell JAIS that next time they raid a Bible-society.

And as for us Muslims,

“XVI. Whosoever acts contrary to my grant, or gives credit to anything contrary to it, becomes truly an apostate to God, and to his divine apostle, because this protection I have granted to them according to this promise.

XVII. No one shall bear arms against them, but, on the contrary, the Muslims shall wage war for them.”

Gone are the days where one noble politician would stand up against this rising tide of extremism. I believe that not all in UMNO and the Malaysian political spectrum approve of the recent decision, but I do believe that all are too afraid to speak up for fear of political retribution. I am truly saddened that many Muslims have been led to believe that they are fighting for their religion, when indeed, it is the opposite.

To the Muslims of Malaysia, I beseech you to fight for our Christian brothers in their time of need. Our status as the majority in Malaysia does not give us the right to treat this country as our own – instead, it is our responsibility to ensure that the minorities are not abused. Or else this will be known as the time when we turned our backs against our own countrymen, and after that there will be no good reason for them to ever trust or fight for us again. In the words of the Prophet,

“XVIII. And by this I ordain, that none of my nation shall presume to do or act contrary to this my promise, until the end of the world.”

And to the Christians, I sincerely apologise on behalf of the ‘leaders’ of my religion. I promise you that without them this issue would have never cropped up in the first place (I myself thought it was a creative joke when I first heard about it), and that the misleading surveys, the vocal extremist politicians, and the biased press has convinced you that you have much less support from the Muslims than you really do, when in reality many of us are behind you in your struggle. And may God bless you all.


Featured image from The Malaysian Insider

I've lived in two countries, been to several schools, and my background is as diverse and complicated as my history. But it doesn't matter - I am a Malaysian. I also like trains.

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