The protest against a controversial ruling allowing Catholic weekly Herald to use “Allah” in its national language section reflects an inferiority complex of the Malay Muslim community in Malaysia. However, the community is not to be blamed.
There is a need to look deeper into the protest to find out why some Malay Muslims, including educated urban professionals, are reacting antagonistically against the sharing of the use of ‘Allah’ with those of the Christian Catholic faith.
Ironically, the Malay language had borrowed the word ‘Allah’ from the Arabic language. It is used by Arabic speakers of the Abrahamic faiths, including Christians, as a reference to God. There were historical claims that the Christian community in East Malaysia had used the reference long before the formation of Malaysia.
Although local publication of Malay language bibles were not encouraged in the country and most were taken in from Indonesia, there was never such a big reaction against the use of ‘Allah’ until recently when the government refused to renew the publishing permit of a Catholic newsletter.
Instead of joining the blame game, it is pertinent for us to seek to understand what triggered the protest. The prime reason is the decades of intertwining between religion, race and politics.
The arson attacks on churches and a few demonstrations around the country reflected an eerie similarity to other political protests and demonstrations warning against questioning the Malay supremacy. Here, the protesters have warned against challenging their religious supremacy and exclusivity.
Is there a zero sum game in the use of ‘Allah’ between Muslims and Christians?
Why are Muslim Arabs able to accept and share the use of ‘Allah’ with those of other Abrahamic faiths but not some Muslim Malaysians?
The main cause which has triggered the protest is the race affirmative policy practised by the current government. It is unfortunate that the Malay supremacy concept propagated and implemented by the ruling regime is also trying to make Islam and the use of ‘Allah’ an exclusive domain.
For the protesters, Islam is synonymous to Malay supremacy. It has to be exclusive and above the rest. This perception is both misguided and un-Islamic. Islam is universal and inclusive. It is compassionate and not hostile.
The current political culture practiced by the ruling regime has proven many times to be both divisive and regressive. Malaysia’s nation building under the Barisan government is just mere rhetoric and a lip service. Consequently, it is so easy to trigger an emotional and hostile reaction to something so basic and menial.
Another prime reason for the protest is the inferiority complex of some Muslim Malays. The lack of confidence in their own Islamic faith is reflected in the argument that the use of ‘Allah’ by Christians in East Malaysia may generate confusion amongst Muslims and spark unnecessary apostasy.
Muslims who are well-versed in their Islamic faith can distinguish between a bible and a Quran. They are wise enough to differentiate and respect the use of ‘Allah’ by followers of other Abrahamic faiths. It is equally baffling to suggest that the use of ‘Allah’ may encourage apostasy or weaken their Islamic faith.
Christians and Muslims in this country should have rejoiced for calling God by the same name. Both religions accept the concept of an all encompassing God.
It is obvious that a court ruling on the ban of the use of ‘Allah’ in Malay language Christian publications will not appease everybody. This problem can only be resolved using a socio-political method.
Hence, the right remedy to address this issue in the long term is to end racial politics. It is unfortunate that a serious national debate on how to end racial politics has failed to materialize even after experiencing some negative repercussions of it.
Malaysians must come together to end this ethno-religious political hegemony and work on a more inclusive and civilised politics. Until and unless, we can improve interethnic and interreligious understanding in the country Malaysia may suffer serious and irreversible destruction to its social fabric and its international standing as a successful multiracial and harmonious nation.
Politically, the hapless Barisan coalition should take a proactive step to disband all race-based parties and form a common political platform which truly represents all Malaysians. There is no reason to hold on to its current post-colonial race-based political model which is outdated and outmoded except to satisfy self gratification of some leaders who wanted to become race champions.
The proponents of race supremacy are the most misguided and unproductive lot in the country. In the knowledge world, those who want to use hereditary as a differentiation advantage can only be regarded as parasites in their society.
Hence, it is time to call an end to the politically constructed social contract which has created brick walls between communities in the country. The reminder to non-bumiputras to be grateful for being granted citizenship and a right to live in this country is an insult to nation building. Such a post-colonial thinking must not be allowed to dictate our interethnic relations and nation building agenda. The only way to end this archaic and destructive socio-political model is to reject racial politics.
It is timely to establish an interreligious dialogue to help promote mutual understanding amongst different faiths. A small misunderstanding such as the use of ‘Allah’ can be discussed and resolved through a dialogue.
Previous attempts to hold such gatherings had faced hostile reactions and protests from the same culprits who protested against the court decision to reverse the ban on the use of ‘Allah’ by Christians.
Similarly, they had wanted to promote Islamic supremacy over other religions. This is not only detrimental to religious harmony in the country but also to the reputation and sanctity of Islam.
Malaysians must stand up against these protesters. It is only when the silent majority speak up or we will not be able to protect our rights from a small band of aggressive self-centric protesters.
We cannot depend on the current regime to defend our constitutional rights or multiracial harmony. Malaysians regardless of faiths must stand up to demand this country being run the way it should be – a harmonious, just and prosperous multiracial country.