December 27, 2012
A Fresh Political Storm is brewing over the Allah Issue
by Maria Begum, Malaysia Chronicle
It looks like another storm is brewing over the use of the Arabic word for God – Allah. And if not careful, the latest flare-up in Muslim-Christian friction could incinerate Prime Minister Najib Razak’s remaining hopes of defending his tenuous hold on the federal government at the coming general election.
Arch rival Anwar Ibrahim is already moving quickly to shield his Pakatan Rakyat coalition from the fall-out, calling for an urgent meeting between the heads of PKR, PAS and DAP, the 3 parties that form the Pakatan.
“This issue was resolved. We not only had a meeting but elaborated in discussions on the subject, and referred to texts, including Quranic texts. Now it has resurfaced, it would require an urgent meeting,” Anwar, Leader of the Malaysian Opposition, told reporters on Thursday.
Misleading the people again?
DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng had started the ball rolling in his Christmas address when he urged the Federal government to allow Christians to use the word ‘Allah’ in their Malay-language Bible.
But it was Najib who turned the spotlight back onto himself. At a Christmas event where Guan Eng was also present, Najib declared that Christian rights had never been trampled on and that he was “PM for all Malaysians”.
Whether this was yet another foul-up in Najib’s long string of political ‘boo-boos’, his remarks certainly revived hope in the Christian community that he might withdraw a government ban on non-Muslims using the word Allah. Christians form more than 10% of the country’s 28 million population.
“Najib doesn’t seem bothered about lightning striking twice. He seems to think all he needs to do to win back Christian votes is to make a pretty speech but the Christians are having none of that. They want concrete action, they want the Home Ministry to withdraw the Allah appeal. Najib cannot promise to restore Christians rights and then deny them the use of the word Allah,” PKR MP for Batu Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.
Tian was referring to a landmark High Court ruling in 2010 that overturned a government ban on non-Muslims using the Allah word. The ruling, controversial in predominantly Muslim Malaysia, sparked a series of violence against churches here, catching international attention and criticism from world Christian bodies.
Political hypocrisy rears its head
According to Wikipedia, Allah is used mainly by Muslims, Arab Christians, and often, albeit not exclusively, by Bahá’ís, Arabic-speakers, Indonesians, Malaysians, Maltese Christians, and Mizrahi Jews.
However, in recent years, former UMNO Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar banned non-Muslims in Malaysia from using Allah, claiming exclusive rights over the word for Muslims although such an act would contravene the spirit and letter of the Federal Constitution, the country’s highest law.
When the Catholic newsletter, Herald, successfully sued to have the ban lifted, current Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein immediately appealed the High Court ruling. The Appellate Court has yet to fix a date to hear the case. However the appeal did not stop a series of demonstrations from erupting.
Egged on by Najib’s tacit green light to show Muslim displeasure, UMNO groups held rowdy rallies and launched Facebook campaigns such as Allah For Muslims Only. The heated atmosphere resulted in violence, death threats against the Judge who made the decision, culminating in arson attacks against several Christian places of worship in the country.
Najib and Hishammuddin were blamed for playing the racial and religious cards to win over the Malay-Muslim voters, who form 55% of the electorate. The cousins were condemned for their political hypocrisy and the Allah incident is among major factors contributing to Najib’s loss of credibility among Malaysians, resulting in the hollowing out of his inclusive 1Malaysia platform.
Meanwhile, Islamic party PAS has made tentative suggestions that “pragmatism” should prevail in the recently revived debate on whether or not Christians in the country should be allowed to use Allah in their religious texts.
PAS said while it defends their right to use ‘Allah’ as previously stated, it would be better for Malay-language Bible to use the Malay word ‘Tuhan’.
“There are sensitive elements such as the Declaration of Faith (Shahadah) and Allah, which must be used in the correct context, otherwise there could be unease in a multi-religious society in view of the present situation,” PAS Information Chief Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man had said.
The PAS remarks were immediately seized on by the BN media to ‘highlight’ the growing rift between the Islamic party and its two other partners – the secular DAP and the multi-racial PKR.
In 2010, PAS researchers had made it clear it was not against Islam for non-Muslims to use the word Allah. It also vowed to stand by the Pakatan common policy framework, where all three partners have agreed to abide by the Federal Constitution.
“I don’t think PAS is making a U-turn as the UMNO media is trying to suggest. On the contrary, PAS’ statement is that it defends the rights of non-Muslims to use the word Allah. It is only advising an approach that it thinks is more conciliatory. This is its right. But it doesn’t mean that it is going to renege on its previous decision.” said Tian.
“This is why Anwar has to call for an emergency meeting where the 3 parties can clarify and re-affirm their cause and struggle for all Malaysians. We do not want to be like Najib – say something which creates confusion and then quickly run away or pretend not to notice.”
Equal partnership & common goal
“The fundamental liberties of all Christians as guaranteed by the constitution must be protected and upheld. This is essential for Malaysia to move forward as a nation united for peace and prosperity,” said the PKR adviser and Pakatan de-facto chief.
“Let us be committed to a Malaysia of equal partnership and a common goal. My colleagues in Pakatan Rakyat and I have worked hard over the years to reaffirm our commitment to a Malaysia for all Malaysians.”
Walk your talk, Christians tick off Najib
In remarks made at a Christmas Day hi-tea, Najib was on the defensive. He insisted that the Christian community have not been marginalised. “I don’t want to be Prime Minister for only a particular section of the community,” asserted Najib. “I’m Prime Minister for all Malaysians, and I’ve said that repeatedly.”
However, Najib, who is also the UMNO President, drew cynical reactions including from the highest levels of the Christian community.
Malaysian Christians have been angered at the PM’s deafening silence over a series of incidents since the 2010 church arson attacks. These include UMNO groups ‘mocking’ their faith by accusing several priest of trying to overthrow the government and replacing Najib with a Christian Prime Minister. Ongoing apostasy accusations, raids and the unresolved row over the use of the Allah word are other unhealed wounds.
“I don’t want to sound churlish, particularly in this Christmas season of goodwill, but if you shake down the PM’s rhetoric, what have you left – syrupy sentiment and clichés that have little or no connection with realities on the ground,” said Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing, the Head of the Catholic Church of the Melaka-Johor diocese.
“It’s odd that Najib has seen fit to remark that he has to be PM of all of our diverse nation and not just one or another part of it. That he has to say a thing like that shows how far his office has tended to depart from a broad-gauged conception of its responsibilities that now there is the suspicion that it is enthralled to exclusivist notions of its actual import.”
“If he had a broad view of his office, how come when Christians were accused over the last two years of not just being ‘pendatang‘ but sinister fifth-columnists, there was not a word from official quarters to stem that patently false accusation which was aimed at creating suspicion and hatred for Christians on the part of the Muslim majority of this country?” queried the Bishop.