Hornbill Unleashed

January 9, 2010

BN stirred up the controversy over “Allah”

By Bunga Pakma

I began to write this piece Thursday morning, 36 hours before my deadline.  As my subject I chose the controversy over the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims. More and more people have been taking notice of this affair, which started as a legal contest, rose to a quarrel, and now poses a grave threat to the peace of the nation.

My draft yesterday ended with an expression of fear that in the space of a night events might render my comments worthless. Sadly, events have proved the reasonableness of my fear. Three churches have been fire-bombed. Mercifully, no one was hurt.

The “Allah”  controversy by now is everyone’s topic, and nearly the only topic before the public. To this torrent of commentary I wish briefly to add a few words.

The proverb says that the first casualty of a war is Truth. Now that dispute has left words behind and gone straight to violence, there’s little hope that fact and reason can prevail against ignorance and malice. Nonetheless, two main points must not be forgotten.

The government itself stirred up the controversy over “Allah”. This is the first and most important point.

The Home Ministry is known to have some bozo—or maybe a whole committee of them—in charge of “protecting the morals” of the Malaysian people by snooping in books for porn, communism, and anything whatsoever that disagrees with the sanitized Official Islam. Seven years ago one of these dip-sticks picked up a Bible in the Iban language and, disapproving the use of “Allah” to render the Divine Name, banned it.  The news was printed in a few paragraphs on the bottom of page 9, where, as I recall, the Bible rubbed shoulders with other banned books titled like “How to Eat Your Girlfriend” and such.

The following Sunday congregations in Sarawak churches heard many an indignant sermon. The Christian leaders dispatched a delegation to meet with Abdullah Badawi, PM at the time.  Badawi heard them for fifteen minutes and spoke to the effect that, if the Iban for “God” was “Allah,” then “Allah” was indeed the word for “God” in Iban. He lifted the ban then and there.

Pak ‘Lah acted with tact and wisdom.  He had in mind what is my Point Two: Arabic-speakers of ALL the Abrahamic religions have “Allah” as the word for the One God for at least 1,400 years. Many thoughtful and travelled Malaysians have written publicly that no controversy at all surrounds the use of “Allah” in the Middle-East.  For say, the Egyptian government to try to restrict the use of “Allah” to Muslims only, that would be as absurd as if the Malaysian government would to erase the word “God” out of the English language.

There are points to be made in theology, also, which I shall leave to the theologians. Too many have been burned at the stake for defending the truth. May I pose a question, though? Is “Allah,” the name of God in the strict sense of “personal name”?

The first time the row over “Allah” arose it was a mistake. The issue was resolved and it slept. This second time possessiveness and anger have been promoted deliberately. This is clearly a case of Divide and Rule, of Weapons of Mass Distraction.  Guess its purpose.

The manipulators in Putra- and Petra Jaya have often bullied Dayaks with no response from them but grumbling. But certain things are sacred. Are the High aware that pushing Dayaks too far is risky? The Japanese enjoyed the Natives’  perfect indifference of their rule until they took away the Ibans’ shotguns.  Never mind no Iban had any shells anyway, for all that the Natives profoundly resented this confiscation.

The warrior-spirit still exists in Borneo. I do not imply that headhunting might come in fashion again. No; Dayaks know that violence too is inappropriate and that there are other ways to fight.  What should be exceedingly plain is that Dayaks are going to keep “Allah” as their word for God whatever the courts decide or the government decrees.

The prime-mover in this unhappy quarrel has committed itself to seeing the issue settled the hard way. The régime has promoted a cock-fight over who owns the word for God.  It’s sordid, ugly, and worse, dangerous.



  1. They think, they thought, they assume and happily accept that they can still rule forever by the divide and rule strategy. They are very confident that Sarawak and Sabah are always theirs to remain in power. Sabah and Sarawak voters, the decision is yours….

    Please read the two speeches by PAS and umno Presidents one day after the Church bombing and the protest at the mosque and take this poll:

    Poll : Which Party Do You Trust And Are More Sincere When Talking About Islam To The Non Muslim Malaysians

    Comment by Richard Loh — January 11, 2010 @ 3:06 PM | Reply

  2. Pitting neighbour against neighbour, they hope to maintain the status quo wherein jet engines go missing, public funds remain unaccounted for, murders go uninvestigated.

    The matured response of the affected groups demonstrates how irrelevant polarisation in whatever form is becoming.

    As regards recent events, the government must take its share of responsibility. The approval of the protests by the home ministery constitute a tacit approval of the protestors’ obvious contempt of court. (actions tending to influence judgment when proceedings are in session. Re : The Far Eastern Economic Review.)Knowing very well that the matter is on appeal they went ahead with the approval of the demonstrations.

    Such conduct is unbecoming of a government claiming to be responsible and caring.

    Nonetheless, kudos to all malaysians who have maintained their level headedness in these trying times. Also know that your power for change lies in the ballot box.

    Comment by homeboy — January 11, 2010 @ 10:05 AM | Reply

  3. The chief of “1 Malaysia” and some of his umnoputras have insisted that Catholics should use “Tuhan” instead of “Allah” to address the Catholic or Christian God. But in the national anthem, “Tuhan” (not “Allah”) bless the country (…Tuhan kurniakan…). How now ?!!!. If Malay-Muslims are that easily confused as portrayed by some umnoputras, they must be thinking that Malaysia is blessed by the Catholic/Christian God, and the Muslim God “Allah” is perpetually on leave. Perhaps, this confusion may cause the government to change the national anthem by replacing “Tuhan” with “Allah”. But then again, non-muslims will not be allowed to sing the national anthem. Then it would be non-muslims’ turn to be confused. If this issue goes to the courts, even the judges will get kepala pening. So much for “1 Malaysia”!!!. It looks more like “1 Helluva confusing & divide and rule”!!!.
    What do Christians in Sabah and Sarawak who supported BN get in return ? They should know the answers by now. Don’t be taken for granted and pushed around. Stop being BN’s “fixed deposit” in the next general election !!!. Vote for fairness, justice and good governance. Vote for change.

    Comment by Sam — January 10, 2010 @ 3:30 PM | Reply

  4. Wake up Sarawak, still want to be UMNO/BN’s “fixed deposit”? Don’t say you have not been foreward!

    Till this morning, the 4th church in KL/PJ was firebombed. This is terlebih lah yet our IGP Musa Hassan
    said they cannot ensure security for every churches! All those bullshit!
    Why won’t they act fast and round up all those who fanned the fire of anger for weeks on?

    They were never slow when it came to peaceful Candlelight Vigilers and those who wore black in silent protest when they sent in the Red Squad in full combat-gear to bash up concerned citizens who did not agree with the Establishment.

    mayday mayday mayday Nation in Distress! This government must go, no ifs no buts!

    Comment by Jong — January 9, 2010 @ 10:12 PM | Reply

  5. […] “Allah” controversy in which we wrote earlier on January 4th finally happened with the mindless act of some […]

    Pingback by Church Bombings..Aftermath.. « Audie61’s Weblog — January 9, 2010 @ 4:34 PM | Reply

  6. The ruling party is afraid of losing the Malay votes, which make up of about 60% of the population.
    In Malaysia, unfortunately, Malay is identified with Muslims — the only country in the world where religion is tied to a race in the constitution.
    Yet in the Quran, it is said that Jews, Christians, Sabeans and Muslims worship Allah.
    How can a Muslim go against its Holy Quran? Not possible.
    It is due to sheer ignorance or due to some political expediency. Any objective scholar can tell you that the word ‘Allah’ is pre-Islamic. It has its root in the Semitic language.
    Not all Malay-Muslims are against non-Muslims using the word.
    Those who are sparking the controversy are acting due to ignorance or motivated by political biases or for some personal gains.Like mahatir,najib,Hishamuddin and Zahid.

    Comment by H.G.Wells — January 9, 2010 @ 3:03 PM | Reply

  7. Lets go for mass service before more churches are burnt down.
    the church will not preach violence against violence but restrain of violent and peace to all mankinde.
    I applaud the intelligent who stole the jet engine.if he is a Russian or American instead of Malaysian,he will be well sought after by the govt to recruit him in their secret spying job.Mind you,the jet engine was missing during the time najib was the minister of defence.

    Comment by A lazy man — January 9, 2010 @ 2:47 PM | Reply

  8. The ‘privatisation’ of Allah?
    In The ‘privatisation’ of Allah? on December 29, 2007 at 9:25 am
    dipetik: uzairsawal.blogspot

    The Internal Security Ministry had prohibited the word ‘Allah’ to be used by non-muslims as ‘Allah’ refers to the Muslim God. The Herald, published by Malaysia’s Catholic Church, has translated the word God as ‘Allah’ which is refused publication by the Internal Security Ministry. According to the ministry,

    “Christians cannot use the word Allah. It is only applicable to Muslims. Allah is only for the Muslim God. This is a design to confuse the Muslim people,”

    Is this really the case where ‘Allah’ is only for the Muslim god? Let’s have a look at Farish A. Noor arguments – What ‘Allah’ means?

    For a start, the word ‘Allah’ predates the revelation to the Prophet Muhammad and goes way back to the pre-Islamic era. Christians had been using the word long before there were any Muslims, in fact. Furthermore the word is Arabic, and is thus common to all the peoples, cultures and societies where Arabic – in all its dialects – is spoken, and is understood by millions of Arabic speakers to mean God, and little else. One could also add that as ‘Allah’ is an Arabic word it therefore has more to do with the development and evolution of Arabic language and culture, and less to do with Islam. It is hard to understand how any religion can have a language to call its own, for languages emerge from a societal context and not a belief system. If one were to abide by the skewered logic of the Minister concerned, then presumably the language of Christianity (if it had one) would be Aramaic, or perhaps Latin.

    A poster in Lim Kit Siang’s blog pointed out 3 very good points,

    1. The term ‘Allah’ was in use long before there was Islam religion in the world.

    2. The term ‘Allah’ was used to refer to God by Arabic-speaking Christians before Arabic-speaking Muslims existed.

    3. Malaysia is probably the only nation where the use of the term ‘Allah’ by Christians to refer to their God is prohibited, whereas its use to refer to Christian God has never been prohibited in many countries in the Middle-East and the Americas.

    In his Chirstmas speech, Abdullah reminded Malaysians not to allow extremist tendencies to take root and undermine interracial harmony in the country. In fact UMNO has the most extremists and narrow-minded ministers trying to ‘reserve’ and ‘privatise’ the word ‘Allah’ for Muslims.

    How could they claimed ‘ownership’ of the word ‘Allah’ when Christians are the first to use the word ‘Allah’?

    When the Malays first reached Tanah Melayu, they unrighfully claimed the ownership of this land, ignoring the true Orang Asli of this land
    “I am the first to reach this land, therefore this is my land”

    When it comes to the word ‘Allah’,
    “I am not the first to use this word, but this is still my word!”

    They privatised God this time!

    Comment by falcon.... — January 9, 2010 @ 12:42 PM | Reply

  9. January 2010 Al-Qaede has made their base in UMNO,they started to burn churches.
    Meanwhile the sarawakians are still relax,enjoy their dinings and oblivious to whats going on .There are numerous dinners,friends reunions and vote BN in to rule sarawak every four years.
    Bravo sarawakians!may be Laksa and kolo mee has killed their brains cells and too much money has made them stupid!

    Comment by Edward Sarawak — January 9, 2010 @ 12:06 PM | Reply

  10. i have mixed feelings..i guess this is one of the times where i am thankful for the oft repeated phrase that Sarawak is an entirely different country from peninsular..and thus we hope more right -thinking people dwell on our land , but then again i am reminded of what edmund burke say ‘that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men/people to do nothing”..which prompts me to not to sit on my butts and be complacent about the issue.

    Comment by cj — January 9, 2010 @ 11:41 AM | Reply

  11. So are Sarawakians going to continue to vote for this type of government? A government run by thieves, racists and bigots? Dayaks will be the king maker in the next GE and state elections. I just hope that they will wake up and not fall for a few pakages of cheap Maggie mee again by voting BN. Pakatan will give you a chance to stop the land grab by Taib and his timber cronies and also the freedom to practice your religion. Think hard about it. The power is in your hand. Otherwise don’t complain of being marginalised or having had your land stolen.

    Comment by Indit — January 9, 2010 @ 11:15 AM | Reply

  12. Well put, Bunga Pakma. In my opinion most Sarawakians – Muslims, Christians and others – are as angry as you are over this cynical manipulation by Umno.

    This is no war. It is a game played by Umno chieftains, with stupid, gullible people as pawns and Malaysians’ lives as sacrifices. To win this game, Umno must convince enough Malaysians to take their side. Umno can twist some weak minds in West Malaysia, but not many in Sabah and Sarawak.

    All we have to do to stop this game is to refuse to play along with Umno. We can rid Sarawak of this pestilence if we vote out Sarawak BN, Umno’s slaves and enforcers. Najib, Hishammuddin and Zahid Hamidi, that Defence Minister who couldn’t find a jet engine even if he sat on it, allowed this to flare up to distract Malaysians from their scandals.

    Comment by Pak Bui — January 9, 2010 @ 10:47 AM | Reply

  13. Anger is the word to hide truth.

    In this contemporary world, no one care about the truth, each person goes on with his or her own business. However, there are those chooses to find the truth; expose the wrong, correct the wrong, tell the truth, guide them to truthfulness, etc.

    Quoted: “we shall do, talk, think, what is right and just” before God sight and please him….

    Comment by Felix Wang — January 9, 2010 @ 10:38 AM | Reply

  14. Nicely written!

    Comment by Katz (And Other) Tales — January 9, 2010 @ 10:14 AM | Reply

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