Tuesday, 12 January 2010

ALLAH: The Bestower of Peace

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.


bubu said...

Slm wbt Bro Zaki,

I've heard that that confusion also involve "Allah" is used to mean "Jesus" a.k.a. God in Christianity. This is where I think is the problem.

However, even if the usage is kept restricted, there will still be curious Muslims who are not confident in Islam, seek these sources. I guess ppl are worried about this happening (altho I acknowledge that even before this issue, this has happened).

I maybe naive too. Stand to be criticized :)

Alfian_Troxion said...

The weird thing about all this is that, some Christian's say that Allaah is not God, and claim that Allaah is a non existent Muslim god. Kalau tak silap www.bible.ca (kot?) states this claim.

At the same time, the Gideon society (or whats its name) are distributing freebies (bibles) to hotels and motels across America, and uses the name Allaah to refer to God.

So pelik jugak la... same religion, differing notions of God.

Tapi betul la... I think, its not a problem for Christians to use the word Allaah to refer to God. According to what I've heard its the best name for the one true god, as there is no plural for the word, no gender can be assigned to the name, and also other stuff that i forget oredi.

But due to the main tenet of Catholicism (betui ke aku term ni?), it can be a problem, because basically God is 3-in-1... Plus, with some 'movements' spreading christianity the 'underground' way, it would be a problem when they relate the name Allaah to the concept of 3-in-1. Muslims pulak, ramai yg take the religion for granted... will get confused, and silap hari bulan... ter convert. ntoh...

anywayz... Allaah is the one true God... the name indeed has been used since the times or Arameians if I'm not mistaken. Cuma just hope other religions will not misuse the name of the one true God to spread false teachings (e.g. God as 3-in-1, relating Allaah to idols, relating Allaah to the moon (who ever came up with that idea anywayz...) etc.)

For me, I know that I am naive. hahaha! so donno if these points are even valid. Plz do advise :D

Anonymous said...

We, Muslims have no qualms if they want to use the name in referring to our god.That is not the issue.
But the problem is,the permission granted will be abused by referring 'Allah' arbitrarily as they please and put Allah on the same padestal with the other gods.
For the Non-Muslims,they should know the sanctity that we hold towards the name,Islam is unlike any other religion.
Islam will never be pigeonholed if they wish to do that.They should bear that in mind!

Zaki Samsudin said...

Thank you to all the above three commentators. If anyone of you were expecting a respond from me, my apologies for doing so very late.

My opinion remains that as far as Muslims are concern, this is first-and-foremost a fiqh issue. Historical, political, conspiratorial perspectives should all come second. Thus, as we can refer to the opinions of the two most respected Sunni fiqh contemporary scholars - Sheikh al-Qaradawi and Sheikh Zuhaili - Islam does not object the use of the word 'Allah' by non-Muslims. We must bear in mind than when these opinions were made, there were made with full realisation that the concept of God between Islam and Christianity are not the same. All major Christian denominations and sects today (including the Coptic Church in Egypt) believe in the doctrine of trinity, which obviously goes against the Islamic tawhidic belief.

We should note however that here in Malaysia, one of our own finest scholars Dr. Haron Din has strongly oppossed the high court's decision. We should welcome him to discuss his views together with scholars in the middle-east and Indonesia to find out why he is so adamant in opposing it. After all, he has publically said that Muslims who support the ruling are in danger of being kuffur. If he feels so strongly about this, he should present this to his brother scholars in Indonesia and in the middle-east because none of them seem to share his views. IF indeed Dr. Haron Din's opinion is correct, all our Muslim brothers and sisters in those areas are in grave danger.


PrincessRen said...

well written, zaki :)