Thursday, February 11, 2010

'Allah' and the Malays

There seems to be a vast difference in the way the Arabs and the Malays treat the word 'Allah', which is the Arabic word for 'god' and was widely used to mean 'god' or 'gods' in the polytheistic Arabian world before the advent of monotheistic Islam.

Thus in the Middle-East, the 'God' of Christianity and the 'God' of Islam were called 'Allah' simply because it was their word for god. Thus the Arabian Bibles used the word 'Allah' to mean 'God' and nobody took offence.

Also the fact that the Arabs grew up in the mileau of Abrahamic faiths just meant that it was okay for a Christian, a Muslim or even a Jew to use the word 'Allah' to mean 'God'.

As can be seen in the earlier postings, a Christian Arab can say 'Allah' in front of his Muslim Arab friend and the Muslim would not find that offensive.

However, in Malaysia (and Malaysia alone) the Malays, who are born Muslims, feel it is offensive if someone who is not a Muslim uses the word 'Allah' to mean 'God'.

They get angry that non-Muslims can use the word 'Allah' and they fear that if non-Muslims use the word 'Allah' somehow the Malays can get confused and abandon Islam.

The problem is this - the Malay-Muslims think they have the sole right to use the word 'Allah' which is why some commentators have argued that it is a 'copyright' issue following the fiery reaction to the Dec 31 High Court ruling that the Catholic Church can use the word 'Allah' in its Malay edition of its news bulletin for Malay-speaking worshippers.

One church was torched and several vandalised soon after. Several Malay-Muslims have been charged following swift police action to nab the hotheads.

Late last month, a couple of wild boar heads were found in the compounds of two mosques in Kuala Lumpur. Nobody has been arrested for this despicable act yet.

To understand why the Malay-Muslims, unlike the Arab Muslims, react in such an irrational and emotional manner when a non-Muslim (rightfully, if you take into account the etymology) uses the word 'Allah' to mean 'God', one has to go deeper into issues that do not involve religion at all - such as identity and sense of being.

The Malays have been indoctrinated for too long that for a Malay to be Malay, he/she must be Muslim. This indoctrination has been carried out by the Malay-language media, by culture activists, even language activists and, of course, the hordes of politicians who derive their power from Malay-Muslim voters.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Malaysia must be the only nation in the world where the Constitutional definition of a race specifies practising a certain religion. Some Christian and Muslim countries have Constitional provisions for Christianity or Islam to be the religion of the state, but they do not specify that a certain race must practise a certain religion in order for a citizen to be accepted as a member of that race.

This Malay-equals-Muslim definition was a creation of the political elite back in the 1950s and it has served the ruling elite well - the politicians in power just have to champion the cause of either Malayness or Islam to be assured the support of the Malay-Muslim voters.

The ruling elite indoctrinated the Malay masses because it served their purpose well - just exploit Malay cultural and linguistic issues, and fly the Islamic banner and they will remain in power.

Thus the Malays have been indoctrinated to accept Islam as theirs - they have claimed 'ownership' of Islam because they are born Muslims and Islam has become integral to their very identity as Malays. A Malay who is not a Muslim is an entity that is illogical and impossible in the mindset of a Malay-Muslim.

Therefore the Malays feel they have the sole right to the usage of the word 'Allah', at least in Malaysia. This is despite the fact that Islam is a Mid-Eastern religion brought to the Malay peninsula by Arabian and Indian traders and missionaries during the Malacca Sultanate.

In other words, to the Malays, Islam is integral to his/her identity and culture despite the fact that it is not a Malay religion - it is a foreign religion that is merely practised by the Malays.

That is why during a recent dialogue on the 'Allah' issue, one participant said that to the Christians, it is only a matter of translation, but to the Malays, it is something more than that.

Having said all these, questions must be asked:

> Can one racial group in this world claim that they, and no non-Muslims, have the sole right to use the word 'Allah'?

> Isn't it inconsistent that in this global age the word 'Allah' is freely used by followers of other Abrahamic faiths in the Middle-East, where Islam began, but in Malaysia where Islam has been adopted by the Malays the word 'Allah' can be used only by Muslims?

> Is it possible that the emotional response of the Malays to the court decision (which has been appealed) is linked to their inherent feeling of insecurity?

> Will there be a time when the Malays feel confident enough about their identity, their sense of being and the 'Allah' that they worship that they won't find it offensive or feel threatened when non-Muslims use the Arabic word for 'God'?

> Will there be a time when the Malays can free themselves from the shackles of indoctrination and stand up proudly to declare that they are Malays and do not need the crutch of religion to give them confidence, courage and a sense of being?

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