Hornbill Unleashed

January 20, 2010

Building bridges in the dispute over “Allah”

By Zhang ML

If there is any value at all to be given to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz’s announcement on the front page the Borneo Post on Jan 15, it is mere nuisance value.

His half-baked comments will not come close to appeasing the Christians in East Malaysia over the ban on the use of the word “Allah” in their prayers and supplications, and practice of their faith.

Nazri’s words have already received flak from Jakim (Islamic Development Department). Jakim says that there cannot be two set of rules to deal with the ‘Allah” issue.

Christian leaders from East Malaysia have also said that it does not solve the problem, since many natives from Sabah and Sarawak have uprooted themselves across to the west, to look for more decent-paying jobs, or to study.

One feels like saying to Nazri: stop trying to apply band-aids! These will not work.

One cannot see native Christians or church leaders jumping for joy here, after Nazri’s announcement, except of course Sarawak’s Land Minister Dr James Masing, who heaped praise on Nazri. If there is any comfort at all amongst the Christian community here, it will be short-lived, unless of course we all hold good old Nazri (nicknamed “The Cannon-Ball”) to his words.

But the fact that Nazri felt compelled to issue his statement goes to show that the East Malaysian states have increasing clout in the politics of this nation, and can play king-maker if we use our vote wisely.

Something new and refreshing

One refreshing and exemplary aspect of this issue for me was to read about what Muslim MPs in PAS have been saying and doing, and their sensible management of the situation. There was more than one PAS representative, I believe, who was actually invited to address a church in Penang. One PAS man engaging with those supposedly on the other side of the feud is Mujahid Yusof Rawa, MP for Parit Buntar.

This was a man who actually reached out to the Christians. He is a true builder of bridges. He took risks and did not mind becoming vulnerable (in the eyes of his own supporters) in his noble attempt to increase the spirit of understanding. In fact, Jesus said, in the gospel of Matthew in the Bible, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.”

I also noted that this MP must have already been very much accepted as a part of his community and constituency, to have been invited to address the local church after the spate of vandalism against places of worship. I am speculating here, but I believe he must have forged lasting bonds with different ethno-religious groups in that state.

Compare the PAS MP’s behaviour with the talk of the Interfaith Commission that BN leaders have spoken effusively about, but have never acted on.

One Christian’s response

Ever since the attacks on the churches began on January 8 (and since, we now know, a Sikh temple in Sentul and a mosque in Samarahan were also vandalised) I have been asking myself what my response should be, firstly as a Christian, and secondly, as an East Malaysian.

A recent email from a Catholic friend went something like this: “Why can’t we in the spirit of peace and harmony just drop the usage of the word ‘Allah’ as there is an alternative word for God in Malay which is ‘Tuhan’? By doing that we can show that Christianity is about love and not violence and that we are not out to condemn.”

Maybe it’s the advocate in me that caused me to reply: “It is not that it will be terribly difficult to tell our Christian native brothers and sisters to change their usual way of addressing God. But you see, the very idea of that, curbing how they address (their) God is totally repugnant and is an affront to their very sense of dignity.”

But then again we hear also the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Blessed are the peacemakers…” and “If someone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also…and if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. And if you only love those who love you what reward will you get?”

Another passage in Romans says “If your enemy is hungry feed him, if he is thirsty give him something to drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  So my friend’s response was not difficult to understand.

Of course my initial, and probably best response, was to bring this matter to God and ask Him to solve it!

Another reaction, of course, is to condemn the cowardly acts of terrorism on the places of worship, as well as those on the Judiciary and the High Court Judge.

But I must still face the question of I myself must do. This is the very question that my little local church, and also the wider Church in Malaysia, should be asking.

The judgment handed down by Justice Lau Bee Lan was regarding The Catholic Herald’s application for a judicial review of the Home Minister’s decision to ban the weekly publication of its Bahasa Malaysia edition.

But we all know that this decision has deeper implications for the future of our indigenous east Malaysian Christians, whose first language is Bahasa Melayu. As a result, we have been seeing disturbing day-to-day developments of this issue, which appears to be a feud between two great Abrahamic faiths.

Before some of you, dear readers, jump on me and shout “this is not a religious issue but a political one!” let me say I am aware of all those opinions, but for the purpose of this article, I would like to be focused on the Christian response. In blogs and internet news portals elsewhere, those broader perspectives abound.

Drop the word “Allah”?

I believe that we should strive for peace between peoples of all ethnic and religious groups. One of the solutions advocated is to “turn the other cheek” and drop the use of the word “Allah” altogether. But this would not exercise our God-given wisdom in looking for a solution to this dispute. The Bible does say “to be wise as a serpent… “

Again, this would be like applying a band-aid to what is potentially a gangrenous sore.

If we agree to this proposal, Bibles in Bahasa Melayu, and other religious books, would no longer be imported. Propagation of the Christian faith amongst east Malaysian, non-Muslim, native people would be handicapped.

Ultimately, where would our religious freedom, as guaranteed under our federal constitution, end up?

Marina Mahathir has given us a timely reminder that bibles are not allowed to be translated into Bahasa Malaysia in this country today (though part of Justice Lau’s judgment pointed out that the Bible was translated into Malay in 1733 and again in 1879).

Therefore, the Bible or Al-Kitab must be imported from Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. Indonesia’s government has never objected to the usage of “Allah” in these translations.

We have no choice but to import these for east Malaysians, so clearly, dropping the use of the word is not a viable solution.

Starting interfaith dialogue

There have been many calls for interfaith engagement and dialogue since the church attacks. If we want to see this happening, how can the local church in your own hometown do this?

We recall what happened to the Article 11 movement initiated by NGOs back in 2005. The NGOs organised a nationwide road-show but sadly, they did not get very far, partly because of protests by the same people who are opposing the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims today.

Perhaps an Interfaith Commission or Council is now needed more than ever. As Victor Hugo said, “There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

To sweep this matter under the carpet again is not a viable option for PM Najib, if he wants to see any resurrection of “1Malaysia”.

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13 Comments »

  1. malaysia is full mediocre and pathetic minsters who simply make statements examples. nazri on allah issues-court wrong,muhidin 10 subjects then 12 for spm.kerishsamudin we cannot prevent them to protest, najib said they have their right to share their feeling.with these groups of kampong mentality,malaysia will soon like zambawe and somalia.it make the world laughs cos of a simple word allah.

    Comment by kpt99 — January 23, 2010 @ 11:46 PM | Reply

  2. Nazri has no authority to allow or disallow the usage of the word “Allah”. He should be ashamed of himself but no he’s such a spoilt bully.

    Comment by Habakuk — January 21, 2010 @ 7:46 PM | Reply

  3. The East Malaysians are big supporter of BN and are considered their fixed deposit.

    If this is not enough they still want to play up racial sentiments to win over more Malays but in the
    end shoot themselves in the foot. The proverb,” He that digs a pit for his brother will himself fall into it,” applies to people who are always plotting evil. God is watching us.

    Comment by babicina — January 20, 2010 @ 6:47 PM | Reply

  4. Well at least Nazri did the best he could under the circumstances to diffuse the anger
    and also to not overrule his Masters. He should not be blamed because his middle approach
    is definitely ridiculous which is caused by UMNO who are pseudo-religious so don’t forsee
    the mess itself into. Serve them right for digging their own graves.

    Comment by babicina — January 20, 2010 @ 6:42 PM | Reply

    • Nazri should have shut up or talk less and stop acting like a pitsbull!
      The whole “Allah” issue is getting sillier by the day while his ‘mastermind’ and his entourage are happily globe-trotting courtesy of Malaysian tax-payers expense, hoping by the time he returns, things would have simmered down. How clever but will we let him go so easily?

      Comment by Jong — January 20, 2010 @ 9:22 PM | Reply

  5. If the government is really sincere that using the A word will confuse the Muslims, I think the Christians will be quite willing to compromise as there is an option. But the whole thing was a charade that Umno uses it for political mileage by purposely instigating the Muslims to object. If the Christians or anybody for that matter give in, Umno will surely go to to town with their bragging. And when people start to lose interest, what will they come out next? No pork to be sold openly? Everyone has to wear songkok or skull cap and sarung? No cross on churches or schools? It will never end. For those who think Umno will be satisfied with a compromise, think carefully before you agree to it. It’s all about politics, not religion. To them the means justify the end. Don’t fall into their trap.

    Comment by apaimasing — January 20, 2010 @ 6:08 PM | Reply

  6. As many Dayaks have duly dispersed all over Malaysia, they have probably found that the gomen have stolen their “Allah” and there’ll be problems. A sizeable Dayak community is now in Johore complete with Pasar Tamu” !

    Where will gomen send them? East Pakistan?

    Comment by congeh — January 20, 2010 @ 4:30 PM | Reply

    • Oops! The “Pasar Tamu” is “H E R E!!!

      Comment by congeh — January 20, 2010 @ 4:37 PM | Reply

      • There’s a big community in Ipoh too. Ipoh is Home of Sarawak Rangers.

        Comment by Jong — January 20, 2010 @ 9:30 PM | Reply

  7. […] when your Numb3r is up you are NEXT.. It seems Mahathir has turned the screws yet again on the US with his statement […]

    Pingback by Beware”Numb3rs Everyone….” « Audie61’s Weblog — January 20, 2010 @ 2:54 PM | Reply

    • What the heck of a screw can Mahathir turn on the US?

      It was on watch that 45 skyhawks were left in the California dessert to rot and Malaysia paid for them. What was that for ? A donation? :((

      Comment by Ah Pek Bayat — January 20, 2010 @ 6:40 PM | Reply

  8. Sadly the bridge that Datuk Seri Nazri tried to build is like the Perak suspension bridge that collapsed too easily.

    I think the ‘rakyat’ deserve better leaders who are capable, trustworthy, responsible and visionary to resolve the nation’s problems rather than half baked solutions for short term political gains.

    Comment by PH Chin — January 20, 2010 @ 1:05 PM | Reply

  9. As long as Prime Minister Najib, his cousin Krishman and UMNO stop sprewing rubbish and fanning directly or indirectly this issue opposing the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims for their political ends, no one else will! It has been a smack on their faces failing to get PAS’s muslims to join them. We must thank Pakatan Rakyat’s leaders effort to calm the situation – PAS’s Nik Aziz, DAP’s Lim Kit Siang and PKR’s Anwar Ibrahim for their wisdom and quick thinking in identifying Najib/UMNO’s malicious intent!

    Let the Prime Minister be reminded that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and his cousin, ‘Chemical Ali’ were later hauled in and held accountable for their evil misdeeds and had to pay dearly for it.

    Any further mischief or attempts to re-ignite the sufferings of 1969 of this nation – a national tragedy that got Najib’s father Tun Razak to top-post, will not be taken too kindly and tolerated anymore by Malaysians today; they have not forgoten that sad episode!!!!

    Comment by Jong — January 20, 2010 @ 10:55 AM | Reply


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