Monday, February 15, 2010

'Allah' or 'Tuhan'

It is strange how even an educated and liberal Malay can feel as if someone had invaded his 'property' when a non-Muslim uses the word 'Allah' (the Arabic word for 'God' widely used in the Middle-East by Muslims, Christians and Jews to mean 'God' without anyone feeling offended).

One would have expected that a broad-minded and English-educated Malay would have a global, learned and broad-minded outlook of the world, but even such a Malay would show a sudden insularity, a narrow-mindedness and a feeling that someone, perhaps an infidel, has 'taken' something sacred from him.

Such is the depth of the Malay-equals-Muslim ethos that it has evolved, rightly or wrongly, into a Malay-owns-Islam mindset.

Thus when a non-Muslim is allowed to use the word 'Allah', the Malay-Muslim feels as if someone has trespassed into his private and guarded space where the Malay-owns-Islam ethos reigns and taken something very close to his heart.

That is why most Malays are angry at the High Court decision allowing the Catholic Church to use the word 'Allah' in its Bahasa Malaysia bulletin for its Malay-speaking believers. The decision has been appealed.

When I asked a Malay friend known for his liberal outlook for his view on the issue, I was rather taken aback when he suddenly sounded like a conservative.

"Along the road where I live, all the Malays that I know are against the decision. They are all very angry.

"People like Marina Mahathir are in the minority. These liberals are from a small group. The majority of Malays are angry and do not want non-Muslims to use the word 'Allah'," he said.

The burning of one church and the vandalising of several other churches are done by the hotheads, a small group of people who cannot control their emotions. Most other Malays, my friend said, are angry but are still in control of their emotions.

"The Government has to act carefully on this matter. If they do not do the right thing, I do not know what will happen. My fear is that worse things will happen."

What about PKR's Anwar Ibrahim and PAS' Hadi Awang who made statements that it is okay for non-Muslims to use the word 'Allah' and many non-Malays seem quite happy with their stance, I told my Malay friend.

"That's all politics. The Malays know they are only playing politics trying to get the non-Malay votes," he said.

But 'Allah' is an Arabic word for 'God' which was in use before the advent of Islam, I said.

He replied: "Why must the Christians use an Arabic word when there is already a Malay word for god which is 'Tuhan'?

"If the Malay-language Bible uses the word 'Tuhan' for 'God', the Malays would not feel angry. Look, if you translate the Bible to, for example, Tamil, you would use the Tamil word for God. If you translate the Bible into Mandarin, you would use the Mandarin word for God. So if you translate the Bible into Malay, you should use the Malay word for God which is 'Tuhan'."

But 'Allah' is used in Arabic Bibles, I said.

"That's because it is in Arabic. Was the Bible written in Arabic?"

"Eerr, I think the Old Testament was in Hebrew and the New Testament was in Aramaic," I said.

"Okay, so what is the Hebrew word for God?"

"Elohim," I said.

"So why not use the word 'Elohim' in the Malay Bible? I think that's okay. I think the Malays would not be angry over that," he said.

But 'Allah' is also used in Indonesian Bibles, I said.

"That was translated a long time ago and the people there had no say in it and did not protest. In Malaysia now the situation is different," he said.

After the conversation, my Malay friend told me: "You asked for my opinion and I told you what I felt." It was his way of saying 'no hard feelings'.

I disagree with some of the things he said, but we are still friends.

Perhaps that is how the 1Malaysia concept should pan out to be - we as Malaysians can afford to agree to disagree, but in the end we should remain united as a nation.

As for the hotheads, whom I think are still in the minority, they should be dealt with by the cops and courts.

As for the politicians (from both the ruling coalition and the Opposition), we should learn to identify those who are sincere, honest and effective from those who are chauvinistic, corrupt and exploitative. The problem is, of course, that we will be left with very few politicians...

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