The fiery outrage over the High Court ruling High on Dec 31, 2009 that the Catholic weekly Herald’s Bahasa Malaysia edition has a constitutional right to use the word “Allah” is essentially a primal response by those who are controlled by their emotions and are blind to the etymology of the word and the history of their religion.
Soon after the High Court ruling, which is being appealed, several churches were attacked with Molotov cocktails, paint or stones. One church was gutted while the others suffered minor damage. A Sikh gudwara in Sentul was pelted with stones, making it the first non-Christian house of worship to be attacked. Police blamed children for the mischief.
The problem is that while a segment of Malaysians are truly emotional over the issue, politicians have been the ones stirring up the emotions and after the fiery consequence of their grandstanding, they are trying to do damage control by donating money to the very Christians they had earlier lambasted.
It does not help that those stirring up the emotions are from Umno despite their denials.
Every Malaysian would have noticed the difference in reaction between the Umno politicians and the leaders from PKR and PAS.
Both PKR and PAS quickly condemned the church attacks as non-Islamic.
PKR's de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim was quick to release a statement: "We are outraged by the tragic attacks on our Christian brothers and sisters and reiterate our unequivocal condemnation of the bombing of churches in Malaysia....With respect to the use of the word Allah, for example, it cannot be disputed that Arabic speaking Muslims, Christians and Jews have collectively prayed to God as Allah throughout the last fourteen centuries. While sensitivities over its usage have arisen in Malaysia, the way to resolve these conflicts is not by burning churches and staging incendiary protests but by reasoned engagement and interreligious dialogue.
"Much of the blame for the recent attacks can be placed at the doorstep of the UMNO-led BN ruling party. Its incessant racist propaganda over the Allah issue and the inflammatory rhetoric issued by government controlled mainstream media especially, Utusan Malaysia, are reprehensible."
In this way, Anwar slyly pointed his finger at Barisan for fanning the emotions. He cannot be blamed - after all he is a politician.
PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, who visited the damaged church, said he believed those prepared to do such an act were ignorant of Islam and it totally did not reflect the true teachings of Islam.
“This is contrary to Islamic teachings which prevent Muslims from disturbing the houses of worship of the other religions,” he Malaysian Insider.
In another occasion, Hadi said the word “Allah” is not restricted only to Muslims as Christians and Jews are also allowed to use it.
However, the name of Allah should not be used in a wrong and irresponsible manner that could jeopardise racial and religious harmony in the country, he said in a statement.
He supported the High Court’s decision and added that the principle of freedom of religion was championed by Islam because human beings could not be forced to profess any religion except through their own free will.
Whether their statements were based on what they truly believed or were politically motivated will never be known.
But compare their statements to:
Umno's Pasir Salak MP Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, who was reported to have said: “What is their (the Catholic church) motive (for the suit)? Why all of a sudden they want to use the word Allah when all this while they have been using the term God?
“This is definitely provocation, they are just using all this human rights, religious rights as excuses. This is sensitive to the Muslims and this will create racial and religious tension.”
In Perak Umno’s Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings said Muslims have exclusive rights to use the word "Allah" and are asking for royal intervention to reverse the High Court ruling.
The leaders claimed that Muslims should have exclusive rights to the use of the word “Allah” by virtue of the fact that "Allah" was not a general term but was specific in nature.
In Selangor, about 100 Umno protestors had gathered at Istana Kayangan, the official residence of the Sultan of Selangor, to submit a memorandum to the ruler over the “Allah” controversy, Malaysian Imsider reported.
“We object strongly to the Catholic publication, the Herald Weekly, using the word ‘Allah’ as measures need to be taken to guard the sanctity of Islam. The use of ‘Allah’ by the Herald will in turn threaten the religion of Islam,” said Datuk Ismail Kijo who read out excerpts of the memorandum delivered to the Sultan.
Ismail stated that, as Muslims, members of Umno Selangor would not allow non-Muslims to use ‘Allah’ to preach to the Muslims.
Ismail, who heads the state Umno Islamic Bureau, went on to explain to reporters that the guidelines on the usage of the word “Allah” was clearly stated under the Selangor State Enactment for non-Muslims 1988 (Enakmen Ugama Bukan Islam).
“The word Allah is sacred and specific for Muslims. It needs to be guarded because it is close to the Islamic faith. We are worried that the decision of the High Court will bring about severe consequences to our future generation.”
So which party has been fanning emotions?
As I have said before, whether Anwar or Hadi made their statements for the sake of political mileage is not known, but they have succeeded extremely well in casting Umno as the devil in this episode of Malaysian history.
In fact, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who is also Umno president, had to vehement deny that his party was to blame for the church attacks.
The Pakatan leaders have put Umno on the defensive even as Umno is trying to project itself as a champion of the Muslim Malays.
Not only that but the Pakatan leaders have successfully reached out to the Christian voters with their middle-of-the-road and accommodating views.
Bear in mind that there are lots of Christian Ibans and Kadazans in Sarawak and Sabah.
These two states ensured that Barisan Nasional could still cling to power in the federal government in the March 2008 elections when Barisan got thrashed in the peninsula.
Perhaps that is the hidden agenda of the Pakatan leaders - to lure over the Christian voters in these two "swing" states.
Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that Pakatan has emerged the winner in this "Allah" controversy.