THE ALLAH CONTROVERSY series...
(in chronological descending order)
1. Be Strong and Courageous
2. The Allah Issue: Round 2
3. The Allah Debate: Moderating Principles
4. The Debate: Allah or Are There Alternatives?
5. Names of God in the Bible
6. A Brief Survey of Views Expressed in the Allah Controversy
7. Testing Times
1Shad Saleem Faruqi, Finding the Middle Path, The Star, 13 January 2010, p. N48.
5Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Seeking Harmony in Malaysia, The Star, 13 January 2010, p. N49.
10P. Gunasegaran, Resolve Conflicts through Dialogue, The Star, 15 January 2010, p. N51.
11Marina Mahathir, Thank Goodness for the Cool Heads, The Star, 20 January 2010, p. N43.
12Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Seeking Harmony.
13Mohd. Zaidi Ismail, Understanding the Allah Controversy, The Star, 19 January 2010, p. N36.
17Azmi Sharom, We Must Never Allow the Mob to Rule, The Star, 21 January 2010, p. N48.
A BRIEF SURVEY OF VIEWS EXPRESSED
IN THE ALLAH CONTROVERSY
Since the High Courts decision in The Herald case and in the aftermath of the January 8 arson attacks against three separate church premises (and several more after those initial three), there had been a flurry of statements and opinions voiced and columns written on the controversy generated around the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims.
We will do a brief survey on some of the more salient opinions expressed; though it must be admitted that this survey is rather limited since the materials covered come primarily from columns in The Star daily. This writer has not yet been into blogging and twittering and thus is not privy to information in that stratosphere; nor has he had (or, tried to) access other dailies or media. The writers apologies.
One of the earliest comments in the January 8 aftermath came from a Muslim law professor, Shad Saleem Faruqi. Writing in his regular column, Reflecting on the Law, Shad Saleem Faruqi called for a spirit of compassion, moderation and accommodation1 in the resolution of the Allah issue. Shad Saleem Faruqi acknowledged the long tradition of the use of Allah among Arab followers of all semitic religions,2 its use in the Bahasa Indonesia translation of the Bible to refer to the Christian God,3 and the constitutional right to freedom of religion (Article 11(1)) and to free speech (Article 10(1)(a)). He also opined that the Muslim belief in one and only one God necessitates acceptance that Allah is for everyone and not just for Muslims.4 However, Shad Saleem Faruqi, through Muslim lenses and the tugging of my conscience, called for restraint in the exercise of ones rights:
...it is not always right to use our rights. Freedom per se has no value. It is what
freedom is for. It is the use to which it is put. It is the sense of responsibility and
restraint with which it is exercised...
It is submitted that in matters of religion, history, logic and reason must not apply
exclusively. Emotions must be regarded. Sometimes rights must give way
to the need for social harmony. We need to find a middle path.4
On this chord, Shad Saleem Faruqi has a good measure of biblical support in the writings of the apostle Paul. In his first letter to the Corinthians and touching on the issue of meat offered to idols, the apostle contends that meat (of any kind) does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do (1 Cor. 8:8). But more saliently, Paul adds, Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak (v. 9). He explains that if eating meat offered to idols before a brother of a weak conscience (in faith and knowledge); and, as a consequence, that brothers faith is destroyed, then the proper thing to do is not to eat such meat even though one has the freedom to do so (in faith and knowledge).
Thus, Shad Saleem Faruqis call for compassion, moderation and accommodation and the middle path needs to be considered by Christian proponents on the use of the word Allah, especially, through Christian lenses of freedom and peace in community living (e.g., see Rom. 12:18).
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, in his own column, expressed a similar sentiment of properly using ones rights and freedom to preserve harmonious living; but the onus on harmonious preservation is on everyone and not just on a particular group: To live harmoniously in [the competition of religions, per the Imam] requires everyone to understand the consequences of their actions.5 While telling the Christian community in the country that their attempt to use the word Allah to mean the Christian God may be theologically and legally correct, but in the context of Malaysia, it is socially provocative6 the Imam also called on the Malays to act in accordance with the ethical values of Islam.7 His message to the Muslims was for them not to mistreat or curse the Christian minorities.8 He offered his fellow Muslims the Prophet Muhammad as the model for inter-faith living in a pluralistic society: He [the Prophet] did not pray the noon and afternoon prayers in a loud voice lest that would incite anger of the unbelievers. And like him, we should all practise our religions in a way that does not provoke others.9
However, this is easier said than done. There will always be groups who are out to provoke and derail the common peace. P. Gunasegaran is right in pointing out the misdeeds of what he calls the minority fringe:
This minority fringe is not only against dialogue and discussion but is prepared
to insidiously incite sentiments by making deliberately provocative references to
matters which are admittedly sensitive and fanning the flames to its advantage.10
The danger and tragedy when this happens is that reason and fair play are thrown to the dogs. There is a very unreasonable stubbornness to win at all costs - even if the costs involve the loss of life and property. The ante is upped and no retreat is possible. The problem then becomes intractable.
This is where and when good governance must come in and the rule of the law upheld. Over the last two weeks or so, the powers that be have generally been responsible and responsive in ways that contribute to restoration and goodwill. But there have been some soundbites made that appear disadvantageous to interested groups in the fray. At the same time where there ought to be a right soundbite heard from the right person, there has only been a deafening silence. This has given rise to rumblings of politicking in place of governing. Marina Mahathir, the daughter of the doyen of Malaysian politics, has gone on record to assert that what we have seen is a leadership that has only been interested in courting love and playing up to the people.11 Perhaps more aware of the goings-on in the political manoeuvring in this country, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf makes this plea to Malaysian politicians:
My plea to the Malaysian politicians is please, please do not politicise religion.
When religion becomes subservient to political agendas, it often becomes a tool
for politicians who misconstrue the religions basic principles for their own ends.
No good can come from provoking this issue to gain political advantage.
Religion is meant to inform leaders on ethics and principles.12
As Christians, we believe that the government of the day is established by God (Rom. 13:1); but we also want to believe that this government will hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong (v. 3); and we will lift up our prayers to the Almighty God that this will exactly be the case so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
Moving on, we come to one very interesting view expressed by no less than the Senior/Fellow Director of IKIM, Dr. Mohd. Zaidi Ismail. In his column, IKIM Views, Dr. Mohd. Zaidi Ismail claims that the term Allah is no ordinary term, not even an Arabic derivative, but the very Proper Name13 of the God in Islam; the term itself being revealed by The One and Only God to humankind through His chosen messengers.14 In making the claim, Dr. Zaidi Ismail appears to repudiate the historical evidence of the usage of the term among pagan Arabs and Arabs of the Christian faith before the revelation of the Quran and the dawn of Islam.15 His arguments are somewhat blurred in some semantics; but he is very clear on this one note: ...the only historical evidence one can reliably rely on is the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad in which the term Allah is employed purely as a proper name.16
Dr. Mohd. Zaidi Ismail is partisan, needless to say. In arguing for Allah to be a proper name revealed in the Quran, he is wanting to assert that only Muslims have the right to the use of the term. But the learned Senior/Fellow Director may have shot himself in the foot through his own assertion that the term is itself revealed by The One and Only God to humankind (italics, mine).
One writer who straightforwardly contradicts Dr. Mohd. Zaidi Ismails claim is Dr. Azmi Sharom, a law lecturer. In his column, Brave New World, Azmi Sharom writes:
There is no scriptural justification to stop non-Muslims from using Allah to
describe God. In fact the opposite is true, the name Allah is praised in
monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques.
This is not my assertion, this is a quote from the Holy Quran, and there are more
in the same vein.17
But a more revealing point Dr. Azmi Sharom makes is that the real intention in outlawing the use of the term Allah to non-Muslims is to prevent proselytising to Muslims.18 As a case example, Dr. Azmi cites the preamble to the Selangor Enactment of 1988, the pertinent section which bans the use of a list of words, which includes Allah, and the explanatory note to this section as proof of his contention that the ban on the use of the name Allah by the state law is in the context of proselytising.19 Azmi adds, If used within the context of their [non-Muslims] own worship and their own religious community, this law does not apply.20
If Dr. Azmi Sharom is correct, then the Herald case in the High Court is rightly decided. But an appeal is pending.
In the meantime, we wait; but with prayer and hope.