Tuesday February 19, 2013
The ‘Allah’ issue re-articulated
By DR WAN AZHAR WAN AHMAD
Malaysians must be wise enough to appreciate the debate and put the issue into its proper perspective, siding with the truth, in order not to destabilise peace and harmony.
THE Allah controversy seems to enter into a more tranquil domain with the ruling of the High Court (December 2009), allowing the Christians to use the term Allah in their scripture and other ecclesiastical materials. Of course this judgment pleases one group and dissatisfies another.
The latter has appealed the decision and the case is now pending at the Appellate Court.
Obviously the tension between the two groups persists. And any “ultimate” amicable solution is yet to be seen on the horizon. There is no guarantee that the much awaited decision of the Appellate Court would help the dust settle down. It is likely that this case may be further brought up to the Federal Court.
When the controversy and its ugly consequences resurfaced due to a statement by a political leader over Christmas Day last year, I feel obliged to revisit the issue and re-articulate certain points raised by some academics at Ikim which, if sensibly heeded to by all disputing parties, could reduce the resulting chaos and confusion.
Regardless of the extreme sensitivity of the controversy, it has to be re-addressed as its detrimental impacts may inflict further damage to the country. The media must responsibly play their role to eliminate the misunderstanding and allay unwarranted fears from among the public, and not to be biased or provocative to worsen the crisis.
All political leaders must not manipulate the issue and unethically manoeuvre for sheer political gains with the imminent coming of the 13th general election. All communal and religious heads must be more sincere, honest and respectful to others by abiding to the truth contained in their respective teachings. They have to be more rational, too.
To materialise the above, perhaps we need to set aside the possible sub-judicial nature of any related discussions or bridging efforts for the two communities. Let’s give priority to our national solidarity.
I urge all Malaysians to be wise enough to appreciate the debate and put the entire issue into its proper place and perspective, siding with the truth, in order not to destabilise the harmonious and peaceful life of all citizens. This serves the greater public interest of all.
From the very beginning, when the controversy first broke out at the end of 2007 and subsequently turned viral later on, Ikim has put forward one of the most powerful arguments in rebutting the claim made by the Christians. It centres on the correct use of language and proper translation/rendering.
The Christians, in championing their so-called right to employ the word “Allah” as a translation for “God”, argued, among others, that “Allah” has been used in their Bible for centuries; that Allah has been used by the Arab-Christians even before the coming of Islam; that at the international level Christians in various parts of the world have been using Allah without problems to Muslims; that at the national level Christians in Sabah and Sarawak have been using the term for decades without offending the Muslims. They appear to insist that there is no mala fide involved in all the aforementioned situations.
The first Ikim response came from the institute’s director-general himself, Datuk Dr Syed Ali Tawfik al-Attas, as he then was.
In his article, A corruption of religious thought, Dr Syed Ali logically and intelligently applied theological, historical, social, linguistic and legal arguments to question and refute those claims.
One of his most important key points lies in the fact that the Christians were wrong in their understanding and application of the Malay language for the translation. He emphasises that “Allah” is the proper name for God in Islam. Therefore, it cannot and should not be translated into any language. This explains why Muslims all over the globe are using the same term to refer to their God, not simply any translation that might be available in their respective languages.
The second article by Dr Mohd Sani Badron, Heresy arises from words wrongly used, reinforces the first one. Supported by quotations from certain Christian leading priests, he shows that even the religion itself disapproves off any attempt to paint its trinity concept with Islamically-inclined contents.
Citing scholars and sources from Islamic tradition, Dr Sani further proves that indeed Allah is a proper name or noun, and it is a non-derivative word. He stresses that “God” is a common noun whereby the only correct Malay translation for it is “Tuhan”.
This linguistic dimension was expanded by Dr Mohd Zaidi Ismail in his Understanding the Allah controversy. To him, the controversy pertains to the problem of correct translation related to the correct usage of language.
Consolidating the two earlier writers, Dr Zaidi re-affirms that “Allah” is the proper name for the Absolute one God of Islam.
As such, it cannot be translated and must be basically maintained as it is.
Years after 2007, it is certainly pleasant to observe that Muslims are now more united in handling the Allah issue. More reliable expressions, prominent figures and influential bodies surge to the front line defending Islam and the rights of its adherents. Some have even courageously changed their earlier positions.
One of the latest interesting writings comes from two young Muslims, in their article published in two consecutive days by another English daily – the New Straits Times. This piece perhaps put the last nail to the contentious encounter.
Over the issue, Muslims should not seek protection or legal redress by resorting to the Cabinet’s decree, or even the Federal and state constitutions or statutes.
To safeguard the sanctity of Islam in particular, Muslims at times need to look for argumentations far beyond these legal instruments, something that is deeply rooted in knowledge and the real truth.
This article is actually a prelude to the forthcoming Ikim English publication on the Allah controversy in Malaysia, consisting of all articles aforementioned. Interested readers, Muslims or otherwise, should wait for this work for more detailed argumentations to help them put justice to its due place.
> Dr Wan Azhar Wan Ahmad is Senior Fellow/Director at the Centre for the Study of Shariah, Law and Politics, Ikim.