Malaysia welcomed the coming of the new year, quite literally, with a bang. On 31st December 2009, Justice Lau Bee Lan of the Kuala Lumpur High Court overturned the Home Ministry's decision to prohibit Herald (a Catholic publication) from using the word 'Allah'. In her oral judgment, Justice Lau explained that pursuant to Articles 11 and 12 of the Federal Constitution, Herald has the constitutional right to use the word in its publication. The word 'Allah' therefore, according to Justice Lau, is not exclusive only for Muslims but can also be used by Christians and other religious groups in the country.
In less than two weeks after the above judgment was delivered, we have seen very strong reactions from Muslim organisations and individuals expressed through street demonstrations, articles and statements in the internet and other media, and (most unfortunately) a series of attack on churches nationwide.
I do not wish to throw myself in the middle of this debate. There are enough statements and articles both supporting and opposing Justice Lau's judgment. For Muslims, those who are against the use of 'Allah' by non-Muslims can go to Zulkifli Noordin's blog to find support for their arguments, while those who prefer a more reconciliatory tone can refer to Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad's article.
What I wish to express here are mainly a few salient points. With reference to the official stand of PAS (Pan-Islamic Party of Malaysia), and as reiterated in Dr. Dzulkefly's article linked above; as far as Islamic jurisprudence is concern, it is not wrong for non-Muslims to use the word 'Allah'. This opinion is based on precedence which can be traced back to the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the long-standing practice of Christians in the Middle-East.
Those like Zulkifli Noordin however have argued that if Christians are allowed to use 'Allah' to refer to God, it will create confusions among Muslims. The concern here is, if these Christian publications are read by Muslim readers, they will be confused and can be easily tempted to deviate from their Islamic belief.
Looking at these two opposing points-of-view, I honestly do not see why this is thought to be such a big problem. Opinions and statements attributed to Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) respectively have clearly shown that Islam does not prohibit the use of the word 'Allah' by adherents of other religions.
The more legitimate issue is the concern that 'Allah' will be used by Christian missionary groups to preach Christianity to Muslims by propagating the idea that the concept of God in both Islam and Christianity are the same. Here is where some important points from the judgment and existing laws in the country need to be referred to.
Justice Lau herself stated in her judgment that as far as Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution is concern, it is an offence for non-Muslims to use the word 'Allah' to propagate their respective religions to Muslims. In fact, one should realise that proselytisation of any religion (other than Islam) on Muslims is prohibited by the same article. Similarly, all religious publications (other than publications on Islam) are not allowed to be distributed and sold in public. They are restricted only to members of the respective religious groups.
To understand further the context behind the Catholic Church’s decision to pursue this case in the first place, one needs to understand the plight of the Christians in Sabah and Sarawak. Bernard Dompok, a Christian cabinet minister explained that Christians in Sabah have been using the word 'Allah' for more than a century, services in churches in the state are conducted mostly in Malay and the Bible they refer to is the Malay version which refers to God as Allah.
With all these points in mind, the solution I believe is quite simple: Christians should be allowed to use the word 'Allah' but they should not use it other than for services in churches and in restricted publications. Any other official usage of the word is strictly prohibited and action can be taken against those who fail to abide by it.
This is what I honestly feel, or maybe I'm just ignorant and naïve? Allahu'alam.
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