Saturday, 25 January 2014

Kalimah ALLAH issue: Lets listen to the voices of reason and impartiality

"It is submitted that in matters of religion, history, logic and reason must not apply exclusively. Emotions must be regarded. Sometimes rights must give way to the need for social harmony. We need to find a middle path"

"resolve the “Allah issue” in a spirit of compassion, moderation and accommodation"

"We need to sit down with humility and maturity at the table of fellowship for a dialogue"

"There is no issue that is so intractable that it cannot be resolved"

"We all need to sit down at the table of fellowship. I am encouraged by the Quranic inj­unction in Surah 29:46: “And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best.”
Emeritus Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi 

On the long running imbroglio on the use of Kalimah ALLAH let us now listen to the voice of reason and impartiality of Emeritus Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi:

He wrote this very masuk akal article on 10 January 2010 after the High Court Decision on the Herald application to use kalimah ALLAH in the Bahasa Malaysia section of the magazine:

Finding the middle path


It is not always right to use our rights. In matters of religion, history, logic and reason must not apply exclusively. Emotions must be regarded.

THE desecration of several places of Christian worship must be condemned as a shameless and mindless atrocity. A democratic society does not resolve disputes through violence.

It is obvious that we have in our midst a lunatic fringe that has no understanding of religion or of the Constitution or of the traditions of tolerance and multi-culturalism that made Malaysia an exemplar for all other plural societies.

In the midst of gloom it is heartening to note that a large number of Muslims, including the Prime Minister, have joined grieving Christians to condemn this outrage.

Church leaders have shown exceptional restraint and have been true to their faith by condemning the sin but forgiving the sinners.

We have to put this national shame behind us and to move on to resolve the “Allah issue” in a spirit of compassion, moderation and accommodation.

Through the looking glass of the Christians, I can clearly see that although the word Allah has obvious reverence for Muslims, no one can deny that Allah is also a term of language.

For centuries, in the whole of Arabia, followers of all semitic religions have used the word Allah to refer to their own God. Arab-speaking Christians use Allah al-ab (God the father), Allah al-ibn (God the son), Allah al-quds (God the Holy Spirit).

Such transcendence of common symbols and vocabulary must be commended, not condemned. In any case the Muslim belief in one and only one God necessitates acceptance that Allah is for everyone and not just for Muslims.

There is also the constitutional dimension of freedom of religion in Article 11(1) and the right to free speech in Article 10(1)(a). These Articles are broad enough to permit any one to invoke whatever language or sentiment he wishes to invoke in order to open his heart and soul to God.

Muslim leaders must also acknow­ledge their role in this imbrogilo. They banned local translations of the Bible into Malay. This forced Malay-speaking Christians, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, to import Bibles from Indonesia.

Bibles in Bahasa Indonesia use Allah to refer to the Christian God.

The Muslim argument that use of the word Allah by non-Muslims will confuse the Muslim population is demeaning.

It paints the Muslims as an extremely ignorant and gullible lot. It ignores the fact that Islam took deep roots in Malaya hundreds of years ago and became the identifying feature of the Malay persona.

The Islamic faith was not shattered during British rule. Why should it be so easily shaken now after 52 years of Muslim rule, 52 years of Islamic education and a vigorous dakwah movement?

However, looking at the issue through Muslim lenses, many issues tug at my conscience. First, it is not always right to use our rights. Freedom per se has no value. It is what freedom is for. It is the use to which it is put. It is the sense of responsibility and restraint with which it is exercised.

Take the one hundred million Muslims in India for example. Despite their rights in secular India’s Constitution, they refrain from butchering the cow because the cow is regarded as sacred by the majority Hindus.

In the British case of Humphries vs Connors, 1864, a Protestant lady was marching in a predominantly Catholic area with an orange lily in her buttonhole. For historical reasons that evoked painful memories for the Catholics.

A police constable plucked the lily away. In an action against the officer for assault, the court held that the officer was within his duty to prevent breaches of the peace.

Similar considerations apply in Malaysia. The constitutional right to freedom of religion is subjected by Article 11(4) to restrictions on proselytisation. Article 11(5) subordinates religion to public order, public health or morality.

A relevant law on public order is section 298 of the Penal Code which punishes the offence of wounding religious feelings.

These feelings are likely to be wounded if there is a claim that Allah was born in the manger; that Allah was born of Mary; that Allah was crucified on the cross.

The Muslim doctrine is that Allah does not beget and cannot be begotten. He cannot be depicted in any physical form. He cannot be part of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

To argue that the word Allah is central to the Christian faith and that any restriction on its usage would hinder freedom of conscience of the Christians requires a willing suspension of disbelief.

Other than in the Arab Peninsula and in Sabah and Sarawak, the word Allah has never been part of Christian discourse or sermons. Certainly in west Malaysia the word was not part of Christian vocabulary up to now.

The Herald’s new found love for Arabic words is indeed very touching but one cannot fail to note that the import of Arabic words is rather selective.

Tan Sri Dzulkifli of USM has pointed out that in the Malay translation of the Bible, the word Allah is used to refer to the Lord God but Mary, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Michael and other revered figures are not given their Arabic names.

One must also remember that Malaysia is not Arab-speaking and Christian sermons in Malay could just as well use words like Tuhan, Dewa, Dewata and Betara without any diminution of freedom of conscience.

The plaintiffs in the Herald case must also take note that there is suspicion, unjustified though it may be, that the use of the word Allah is an indirect attempt to proselytize Muslims contrary to Article 11(4).

The argument that the Church will be using the word Allah only privately is credible but we all know that it does not take much to put a private publication in the public domain.

All in all it can be said that in relation to the Herald case, the general Muslim reaction is too emotional and is based on lack of knowledge.

The Herald, on the other hand, has lots of facts but no tact. Its arguments rely on cold logic, history and rationality but there is total disregard of local context and of religious sensitivities.

It is submitted that in matters of religion, history, logic and reason must not apply exclusively. Emotions must be regarded. Sometimes rights must give way to the need for social harmony. We need to find a middle path.

The case of Sabah and Sarawak Christians who have a long tradition of using the word Allah without any inter-religious problems needs to be sympathetically considered.

In the long range, encouragement must be given to replace Indonesian translations of the Bible with Malaysian renditions. All restrictions on the printing of Bibles in the Malay language must be lifted.

In relation to west Malaysian Christians, there is no need to use the sledgehammer of the Printing Press­es Act to impose prior restrai­nts. A Home Ministry advice on the consequences of violating Articles 11(4), 11(5) and section 298 of the Penal Code will be sufficient. If this advice is not followed, prosecutions can be commenced.

The judicial process should be allowed to continue without any intimidation. However neither judicial decisions nor executive proclamations can make this heart-wrenching problem go away.

We need inter-faith dialogue to find comprehensive political and administrative solutions for our tattered fabric of inter-religious relationships. There are many painful issues and piece-meal solutions will not be enough.

Fair and moderate solutions will require leadership and sacrifice. As the Rev Jesse Jackson said “leaders of substance do not follow opinion polls; they mould opinion, not with guns or power of position but with the power of their souls”.

By now everyone knows that the High Court decision which allowed Herald Magazine to use the word ALLAH in their publication went to the Court of Appeal and was subsequently overturned, triggering another round of debates and with the recent JAIS raid in Selangor on a bookstore selling Bibles, things are heating up and the temperatures in Semenanjung are going up no thanks to the extremist shit stirrers in the DAP read here. (thank God Almighty that the Sabah and Sarawak people are taking things in their stride not unduly influenced by DAP incitement)

This is what the good Professor wrote recently on 23 January 2014 in regards to the Kalimah ALLAH issue that threatens to tear our blessed nation apart:

Storm in a teacup


We need to sit down with humility and maturity at the table of fellowship for a dialogue.

ON Prophet Muhammad’s birthday it was heartening to hear the clarion call by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the Ruler of Negri Sembilan and the Raja Muda of Perak for accommodation and tolerance on issues of religion.

Their sentiments are in line with Islam’s recognition of religious pluralism and its affinity with Judaism and Christianity. It is said in Surah 29:46: “And say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.”

Abu Dawud reports that Prophet Muhammad once warned his people: “Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.”

I wish that on the Kalimah Allah issue, a spirit of respectful dialogue with humility and maturity could replace the shrill voices of discord and threats that have characterised the debate in the last few weeks.

If we could calmly listen to each other and try to understand each other’s fears and suspicions, we could arrive at some broad agreements.

In fact, a middle path already exists in the assiduously arrived-at Ten-Point Agreement of April 2011.

We need to honour this solemn pact and do whatever is necessary legally and politically to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way. The obstacles are indeed many.

Many Muslims are claiming that the word Allah is exclusive to Islam and for this reason its usage by others must be banned.

This argument is based purely on local laws and on local perceptions. It has no theological, etymological or global basis.

The term Allah precedes Chris­tianity and Islam and is widely employed by Arabs of all faiths.

The Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs uses the term 46 times! Christians in Indonesia and in Sabah and Sarawak have for centuries invoked the term Allah to refer to God. Having said that, it must be pointed out that the concept of Allah, as shaped by Islam for 1,435 years, is radically different from the concept of god in most denominations of Christianity.

Wounding religious feelings: 
In the theology of Islam, Allah cannot be depicted in any human form. Allah cannot be an aspect of the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Allah does not beget and cannot be begotten (Surah 112:3). There is a clear distinction between God Almi­ghty and His many noble Prophets.

That being so, if it were to be preached publicly that Allah was born of Mother Mary; that Allah was born in the manger; that He was crucified and resurrected, this will blaspheme Islam and could be caught by Section 298 of the Penal Code. There will be implications for public order.

I believe that the unspoken factor behind the Kalimah Allah dispute is the fear in some Muslim minds that Christian evangelical groups in peninsular Malaysia are using the word Allah to circumvent the restriction in Article 11(4) on converting Muslims. This suspicion must be addressed.

State laws: 
Article 11(4) authorises state assemblies to enact legislation to regulate the preaching of religion to Muslims. Ten states plus the Federal Territory have such laws in place. Till these laws are repealed or amended by the state authorities or nullified by the courts, their provisions will override the admirable 10-point solution.

I must add that some provisions of state laws enacted under Article 11(4) appear as unconstitutional as can be. The spirit of the Constitution in Article 11(4) is to forbid any att­empt to proselytise Muslims to other faiths.

Nine of the state laws resort to overkill by banning the usage of a number of Muslim or Arabic words without linking the usage to any attempt at proselytisation.

Even if the words are used in private, or to followers of one’s own faith, the usage is outlawed.

This appears unconstitutional. It would be useful to move the Federal Court for a ruling on this issue as to whether various state enactments under Article 11(4) are partly or wholly contrary to the Constitution.

State Rulers: 
Many state rulers, acting on advice, have relied on state enactments to issue edicts against the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims. However, questions of constitutionality of the legislation cannot be prevented from reaching the Federal Court.

Schedule 9, List 2, Para 1: 
The Constitution specifically asserts that Syariah courts have jurisdiction only over persons professing the religion of Islam. It is arguable therefore that Syariah authorities likewise have juri­s­diction only over Muslims. It is my submission that to the extent that state laws under Article 11(4) are addressed to non-Muslims, these laws are civil laws and are enforceable only by civil authorities in civil courts.

The Herald decision: 
The Court of Appeal decision contains sweeping statements that may adversely affect Sikhs, Christians of Sabah and Sara­wak and other parties that had no opportunity to submit their case before the court.
Hopefully, the Federal Court will confine The Herald decision to the facts of the case and to the parties involved. Hopefully all state laws under Article 11(4) will be interpre­ted narrowly to relate only to proselytisation.

There should be close examination of the Court of Appeal’s attempt to subordinate Article 11 (freedom of religion) to Article 3 (Islam). In this context, Article 3(4) should be taken note of: “Nothing in this Article derogates from any other provision of the constitution”.

A line of court decisions including the Halimatussaadiah and Herald cases imply that freedom of religion is restricted to essential and integral parts of the religion. Surely this is not so. Whatever is permitted, even if not mandated, is a fundamental right.

All in all, it is submitted that there is no issue that is so intractable that it cannot be resolved. We all need to sit down at the table of fellowship. I am encouraged by the Quranic inj­unction in Surah 29:46: “And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best.”

Read in full in The Star here and here.

I believe that Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi should be invited to become an additional Board member of the National Unity Consultative Council, his wisdom and cool head is what we need in these tough times. What say you PM Najib Razak?

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