Monday, January 4, 2010

Staying Calm For Allah

Malaysia and its neighbours are quite well-known for disputes over claims and counter-claims of titles and belongings. We've been fighting for all sorts of things from title of food recipes, songs such as Rasa Sayang, traditional dances, even islands in our waters.

And so it shouldn't come as a surprise that we are now fighting for the right of using the word "Allah" for God between the Christians and the Muslims. Well, I am not a religious person, and have never really been a practising Roman Catholic. But for as long as I can remember since my school days about a hundred years ago, the Malay translation of the Catholic faith for God has always been "Allah". And of course that translation has never been challenged all these years. However, someone brought it up recently, and then suddenly the use of "Allah" to mean God in Christian publications became something that's "sensitive" to the Muslims in Malaysia.

The result is that we have had an interesting legal battle over the last several months to decide whether the Christians are allowed to use "Allah" to mean God in the Malay translations of their religious publications.

If anyone had asked me a few months ago to predict what the decision of the High Court would be about this matter, I would have told him confidently that the courts would certainly decide for the Christians for the use of "Allah" in their publications. I don't know what is so surprising about this decision which has since become such a big thing in Malaysia.

In the game of chess, we get to see more or less the same thing quite frequently. A player makes a move which seemingly puts his position in a disadvantage. Maybe he will even lose a major piece like his Queen or Rook. But at the end of the combination, there is that surprising entrance to mate the opponent's king. It makes the game so much more interesting to observe!

In Malaysia, we've seen such maneuvres in several recent major cases. We have seen, for example, how a BN's MP jumped to the Opposition camp, only to jump back to BN a few days later, tagging along several of the MPs from the Opposition camp. The result was devastating for the Opposition government in that State!

We have also seen how the courts have decided in favour of the Opposition's (former) Menteri Besar (MB) against the BN's MB, only to have such decision reversed later in a higher court, so that at the end of the day, the BN's MB was the winner.

There is a psychological significance to all this. In the case of the MP jumping from one camp to the other, it was necessary to show the people that the Opposition could accept an MP from the ruling government. So that the BN government should also be allowed to accept an MP from the Opposition side. In the case of the decision of the fight for the Perak MB, it was necessary to let the Opposition win in the lower court. Then after the Opposition had given all the praises to the Malaysian legal system, it would be very difficult to withdraw those praises when a higher court reverses that decision. And even if they did try to withdraw those praises, that will only make them look small.

Therefore, now that the high courts have decided in favour of the Christians to use "Allah" to mean God in their publications, I think the Muslims in Malaysia shouldn't be overly worried. My bet is that when the case goes to a higher court, which is now in progress, that decision will surely be reversed. And even if that decision is not reversed, it will continue to find its way to an even higher appeals authority to get it reversed. In the end it will be reversed somehow.

Of course I may be wrong in my analysis. After all, this is just my fancy idea, and obviously there is very little truth in it.

But yes, I would agree with the Prime Minister [The Star]—the people should stay calm about the recent high court decision. Don't worry, folks, that decision will not be for very long.


Sarah said...

What a bizarre thing to object to. Islam did not invent "Allah" - the name was already used by Arabs at the time, including Arab Christians. It might be less obvious why Malaysian Christians should use the Arabic name for God, but whatever. Says a lot about the state of relations between the two faiths there.

Cornelius said...


One of the reasons why the Muslims are objecting to the use of "Allah" in Christian publications is that it may create "confusions" among the Muslims. But it was not elaborated how such confusions may arise. I can only guess that the feared confusion might arise when and if Muslims read those Christian publications.

I happen to know that not very many Christians actually read the Bible thoroughly; and not very many Muslims actually read the Quran thoroughly. There are not many, if any, Al Hafiz in Malaysia. Maybe some of them read bits and pieces here and there. Therefore, for example, when I told my Muslim friend that the Quran allows slavery, he was very surprised.

If one does not even read one's own holy book, it is a bit hard to imagine that he'd read another religion's holy book or publications. So it's a bit far-fetched to believe a possible cause of "confusions".

But this is just my own unsupported opinion. I accept that I may be wrong.

At any rate, my guess is that the Christians in Malaysia should start thinking of another word to replace "Allah" soon. For I don't think that the recent decision of the High Court will hold for very long. Sorry, I have nothing against the Christians. It's just life.

Sarah said...

OK, I get the point. If they don't know their religion very well, they might not realise they were reading something Christian, and be misinformed.

I wonder what would happen if more people read and thought about their scriptures. They would probably be surprised about a few things. What effect that would have I'm not sure!

Cornelius said...


"I wonder what would happen if more people read and thought about their scriptures. They would probably be surprised about a few things. What effect that would have I'm not sure!"

My best bet is that it won't have any effect at all. No amount of reading of the scriptures will change anything. From my experience, religious people, including Christians and Muslims, accept their religions based mainly on faith, not so much on logic and reasoning. But if they can also support their beliefs with logic, then that is also good.

I have spoken to some Christians about the story of the Ark, for example. What is the truth of that story? Well, it defies logic, but what can we do about it? When one chooses to believe, one believes without questioning!

I have also spoken to some of my Muslim friends about Prophet Muhammad who married his youngest wife when he was about 56 years old, and Aisha was only 7 years old at the time. That marriage was consummated when Aisha was only 9 years old. I asked the question: What does that tell us about the character of the Prophet? But it doesn't really matter, the Prophet is still the best example of a Muslim.

So, Sarah, as I said, no amount of reading the holy books (Bible and Quran) or the hadith will change anything. It's all about faith!

Socrates29 said...

Somebody has today suggested a compromise by suggesting that the Christians used a substitute word "Tuhan" instead of "Allah".

Knowing Malaysians, it will really takes a lot of compromising on the part of the christians to forgo using the word "Allah" and adopt "Tuhan" instead.

The little that I know of this matter is that it is usually the Roman Catholics who uses the word "Allah" more than the Protestants (Anglicans).

You are right to point out that while Christians (meaning the Roman Catholics) have been using the word "Allah" for so long but it was only recently that much objections have been made by the muslims (in Malaysia) to the use of the word by christians (in Malaysia).If there have been no "confusions" in the past among the muslims, why was it now an issue now?

Anonymous said...

U forget that god can perform miracles. He can make all the animals live without food & water by magical means. He can supres natural instinct of animals wanting to eat other animals etc. If you think of it that way, isn't the story of ark logical?

Cornelius said...


Actually, strictly speaking, Allah means God in Arabic. That word has been adopted into Malay. But of course some people are convinced that Allah is exclusive to Islam.

Some years ago, when I was working in Brunei, I greeted a Muslim man with "Assalam mu-alaikum" or something like that, thinking that I was being nice. But instead he was offended. He said that that greeting is only for Muslims to greet other Muslims, but not for the non-Muslims. The strange thing is that when President Obama gave a speech to the Arabs, he also greeted them with that same greeting, and it was well-received! So you can see how Muslims may appear to know Islam, but actually know very little of the religion!

No, of course there is no confusion, but it is still a good way to cause an issue.

Cornelius said...

Anonymous friend,

Thanks for your comment.

No, I did not forget about the "miracle" explanation. Even if I looked at the matter from that point of view, it is still illogical.

If God had wanted to use miracle to save Noah and his family and all those animals that way, then there is no meaning to the Ark. Why bother with building the boat if God wanted to use magic? He could have made all those animals fall asleep and float on water for a year without dying. There was in fact no need to build a boat at all. That is a more efficient use of magic, don't you think? There is just no logic of building the Ark.