Friday, January 8, 2010

The Allah Controversy

What is the crux of the matter? Has the Catholic Church “Herald” the right to use “Allah” as the name of God in Malay language? The Home minister revoked the license for Herald publication. The Catholic Church brought the case to the court for hearing. The Federal Court ruled in favor of the Catholic Church.

Following the ruling of the High Court, there is an uproar among the Muslims. Three churches were attacked on Jan 8. The Metro Tabernacle church was torched. The home explosives did not detonate on the front door of the Assumption Catholic church and also the front door of Life Chapel Protestant church. Clearly some extremists expressed their anger through violence.

Why is there such a reaction from certain section of the Muslim community? Today (Jan 8) the Muslims were protesting in the mosques across the country. PM and Home minister gave them the green light to voice their upset but told them that their gathering must not be out of control. Wisdom dictates that such sanction will lead to serious repercussion. PM failed to seize the moment to lead the nation with courage and wisdom.

In the midst of religious conflict that might lead to bloodshed like so many countries in the world – how can Malaysia with moderate Islam as the official religion of the nation model moderation? How can a nation with diverse cultures and diverse religious faiths model civility? In the words of Os Guinness, in a world torn apart by religious extremism…no question is more urgent than how we live with our deepest differences- especially our religious and ideological differences. Its time we think about civility. Civility is the ability to live with deep respect for one another in the midst of severe differences. A civil person or community is one who appreciates liberty, diversity and unity. We owe it to our children to build a nation that every Malaysian can be proud of. If we cannot resolve the religious differences now, we can certainly help make the nation safe for diversity.

Three things for any society to practice civility – understanding, respect and yielding of rights

It begins with the voice that articulate understanding. The Christian community needs to tell the Muslim community that we understand your fear and concern – the fear of confusion and the concern for conversion. To the Muslims who do not have any knowledge that the name “Allah” predates Islam, and that the Arab Christians had been calling their God “Allah” for centuries, they felt that the name “Allah” is being hijacked by Christians. They felt that “Allah” is the personal name of the Muslim God only. Even for those who may now came to know the historical context of the origin of the name “Allah”, they felt that the political and religious context in Malaysia requires that the Christians to be more sensitive. They insisted that the Christians stopped calling their God “Allah.” Just as the name “Allah” is personal to the Muslims, it is also very dear to the Christians in East Malaysia who have been using that name even before Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaya to constitute the Federal Malaysia. The Sikh community in Malaysia has also been using this name all these while. The Sikhs chose to maintain their silence and do not wish to be drawn into the controversy.

There is only one God who is the creator of the universe. The Scriptures of Muslims, Christians and the Sikhs may have different revelations of “Allah”, each group worship Allah and follow Him in the ways that they understand from their respective Scriptural revelations. There is absolutely no confusion at all. The Sikh will never think that “their Allah” is the same as the Muslims or the Christians. No one is confused except the politicians.

The fear of conversion is understandable. But the Muslims have the Constitution to protect them. They have the government machinery to their advantage. The conversion of Muslims to Christianity is very negligible in Malaysia as compared to the thousands of Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians who converted out of Christianity to Islam. It is an open knowledge that Muslim missionaries are sent to the schools in East Malaysia for their Dakwah movement.

For civility to flourish in any society, deep respect must be accorded to every single person regardless of whatever faith he or she professes. The greatness of a nation is how the powerful protects the interests of the weak, how the strong take cares of the welfare of the weak, how the wealthy share its wealth with the poor, and how the majority esteems the minority.

Respect means that we do not force our views on anyone. We can accept that others do not share our views, whether be it politics, or religions. We give the other persons or the group the freedom to practice their faith. Even God does not force anyone to believe in Him or to worship Him. The freedom of choice is a great gift that must be respected.

The moderate voice of some Muslims like Marina Mahathir, Tenku Razaleigh is to be lauded. The Christian community needs to also convey its deep respect for the Muslim faith. Malaysian history shows that there is no incident of Christians bombing the mosques.

Yielding of Rights

If every community insists in its right, then conflict will escalate. Yielding one’s right is much more difficult to do. It involves humility, and self -denial. In this case of the Allah controversy, it is much more difficult to do. The Muslim Ummah and the Christian churches need to come together more often to build relationship. There are common projects that both communities can work together for the good of the nation. When there is friendship, there will be trust and when there is trust, fear will not present.

The way forward is for the two communities to have interreligious dialogue. Study each other Scriptures, examine history and look at other nations how Muslims and Christians have lived harmoniously together. Yielding to rights mean that I do not insist my way is the best way and I do not insist that you must follow my way. What it does mean is that I give you the space to explore the truth and allow you to hold on to your religious conviction.

The way forward is for PM and his cabinet to model humility and deep respect for the rights of each community in this land. Their voice will have moderate influence over the general populace.

For the Christian community, we must continue to do good and we must never repay evil with evil. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

It’s a challenging time; let us love the Muslims and this nation.