Muslims Have No Monopoly over 'Allah'

Category: Asia, Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society Topics: Allah, Muslims Views: 6290

Malaysia has once again resurfaced in international headlines for the wrong reasons. Over the last two weeks, arsonists and vandals attacked 10 places of worship, including Christian churches and Sikh temples. Though there were no injuries and the material damage is reparable, the same cannot be said about the emotional and psychological scars left behind. After numerous conflicting statements from government officials, the underlying causes of the violence are still unaddressed. Malaysia's reputation as a nation at peace with its ethnic and religious diversity is at stake.

Malaysia's poor handling of religious and sectarian issues is not unique. The ill treatment of minority groups in Muslim countries is often worse than the actions Muslims decry in the West. I have called attention to the broader need in the Muslim world for leadership that demonstrates consistency and credibility in our call for justice, fairness and pluralism. These values are embedded in the Islamic tradition as the higher objectives of Shariah expounded by the 12th-century jurist al-Shatibi.

We have seen Muslims around the world protest against discriminatory laws passed in supposedly liberal and progressive countries in the West. Yet just as France and Germany have their issues with the burqa and Switzerland with its minarets, so too does Malaysia frequently fail to offer a safe and secure environment that accommodates its minority communities.

The recent arson attacks exemplify what's wrong with the way Malaysia regards its non-Muslim citizens. The attacks were provoked by a controversy over the use of the word "Allah" by Malaysia's Christian community, which numbers over two million, or about 10% of the population. In late 2007, the Home Ministry banned the use of the word by the Herald, a Catholic newspaper, and later confiscated 15,000 copies of Malay-language Bibles imported from Indonesia in which the word for God is translated as "Allah." A Dec. 31, 2009 ruling by the Kuala Lumpur High Court overruled the earlier ban, asserting constitutional guarantees regarding the freedom of religion in Malaysia. Since then, an already tense situation boiled over, largely due to incitement by a few reckless politicians, the mainstream media and a handful of nongovernmental organizations linked by membership and leadership to the United Malays National Organization, the ruling party.

For example, Utusan Malaysia, the nation's largest Malay-language daily-which is also owned by UMNO-has inflamed Muslim religious sentiments by accusing non-Muslims of desecrating the name of the "Muslim" God and alleging a Christian conspiracy to overrun this predominantly Muslim nation through conversion. I have seen these incendiary propaganda techniques used before, when politicians and demagogues exploit public sentiment to garner support by fomenting fear. Such tactics are useful diversions from embarrassing scandals ranging from controversial court decisions, to allegations of exorbitant commissions extracted from military procurements, to the theft of two jet engines from the inventory of the Royal Malaysian Air Force. This behavior has been exacerbated since the ruling party lost its two-thirds majority in parliament last year. UMNO is now desperately struggling to regain public support.

Few Muslims around the world would endorse the claim that we have a monopoly on the word "Allah." It is accepted that the word was already in the lexicon of pre-Islamic Arabs. Arabic's sister Semitic languages also refer to God as "Allah": namely, "Elaha" in Aramaic, and "Elohim" in Hebrew. Historical manuscripts prove that Arabic-speaking Muslims, Christian and Jews have collectively prayed to God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, as "Allah" for over 1,400 years. The history of Islam in Southeast Asia is known for its pluralistic and inclusive traditions, and amicable relations between Muslims and non-Muslims have been the norm for generations.

Muslim scholars outside of Malaysia thus find our "Allah" issue absurd and cannot fathom why it has sparked protest and outrage. Minority Muslim populations living in the West, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11, have diligently tried to remind the public that Muslims, Christians and Jews share common Abrahamic roots and ultimately worship the same God.

Local sensitivities have been aroused over this issue. They should be handled through dialogue and engagement. Instead of permeating a sense of insecurity or a siege mentality, Muslims must be encouraged to engage and present their concerns to the Christians in a constructive manner. The example of Muslim Spain is a moment in our history to which Malaysian Muslims should aspire. But efforts toward fostering a convivencia are not only found in the past. The ongoing "Common Word" initiative, a global effort launched in 2007 that captured the support of over 130 of the world's most prominent Muslim scholars, has made historic progress towards building goodwill among Muslims and Christians to find ways to live in sincere peace and harmony. It is ironic that noble efforts such as these are being undone by the actions of Muslims themselves.

Malaysia's international reputation has taken a beating since Prime Minister Najib Razak was sworn in last year. Despite his efforts to promote national unity, news about the caning of a young Muslim woman charged with drinking, the mutilation of a cow head in protest of the construction of a Hindu temple, ill treatment of Muslim converts who revert to their earlier faith and even the outlawing of the practice of yoga by Muslims have many at home and abroad wondering which direction Malaysia is headed under Mr. Najib's leadership. There are already misgivings about governance, human rights, the rule of law and rampant corruption; Malaysia dropped 10 spots on Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perception Index, our worst showing in over 15 years. The vision of Malaysia as a peaceful and stable location for investment, tourism and migration is now in peril.

This matters most for Malaysians who have to contend with an increasingly polarized social and political landscape. Malaysia cannot afford to be held hostage by the vested interests of a few who manipulate faith and identity as a means to elicit fear for political and economic gain. This is old politics, and it has become clear that those who incite hatred are only doing so to prolong their monopoly on power. The majority of Malaysians reject this approach. They realize that overcoming the challenges we face-a stagnant economy, declining educational standards and rising crime-depends on our ability as a nation to internalize and make real the principles of fairness and justice to all.

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Mr. Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, is a member of parliament for the Justice Party and leader of the opposition.


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  14 Comments   Comment

  1. Nazri from Malaysia

    Hmmm, same old story from Anwar. Always attacking UMNO until he gets the the Prime Minister's seat. If only he is still with UMNO or the Malaysia's PM, i'll bet his story will be different.

  2. Nor from USA

    Completely agree, and very worried by the amount of ignorance and comments made

    by these people who disagree. Please get to know your religion better - it's all about

    tolerance, and get to know history- the word Allah is used by Christians all over the

    Arab world and has always been so even before Islam existed!!! As a matter of fact

    many things in Islam that we do and say now are predates by Jewish and Christians

    traditions. They are called people of the book for a reason.

    For example the God = Son + God + Holy Spirit first of all does not represent the

    belief of all Christians ESP. Eastern Christians. And many argue that is symbolism

    and not believed by all - depends on interpretation of the bible etc...point is don't be

    so simplistic- the world and religions are much more complicated and unless you are

    a scholar in all religions, you are in no place to judge!

  3. Dhulkifl Zaman Khan from Singapore

    Please do not believe by what is stated by Anwar Ibrahim. You have to understand the geo politics of the region to understand why it had been so explosive this Allah issue.

    Anwar Ibrahim is trying to champion his political interests at the expense of Islam.

    A simple thing is that Allah is not a Malay word - its an Arabic word for "The God". In the Malay Language we call it Tuhan. So why not use Tuhan which is the right word, as the so called Bible was in Malay! we must think why these people refused to use a proper Malay word and insist on the Arabic word Allah, when the Bible was in Malay. Really ODD dont you think so!

    So Anwar Ibrahim is not telling you the whole truth! Typical politician.

  4. WAVOO.Z.A.SHAHUL HAMEED from Hong Kong

    Hall commented the West Plundered All, but really infact the INFIDELS

    did all mischiefs, WHO PROPOGATE THEIR NEW RELIGION UNDER THE VERY

    NAME OF ISLAM & HOLY LANDS' TO KEEP THEM IN POWER, AGRESSIVELY

    PROPAGATE WAHABISM USING THE PETRO DOLLARS. WHY NOT THE ARAB PEOPLE

    CHOSE REAL MUSLIMS LIKE SUFIS AS THEIR RULERS IN THE PATH OF PREVIOUS

    RIGHTEOUS PEOPLE (SAALIHEEN). THEN THE PRIDE WILL RETURN TO MUSLIM

    UMMAH.

  5. hall from malaysia

    IF YOU MISS THIS IN ISLAMICITY !!!!!!!

    RENOWNED Swiss politician Daniel Streich, who rose to fame for his campaign against minarets of mosques, has embraced Islam.

    A member of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) and a well-known politician, Daniel Streich was the first man who had launched a drive for imposition of ban on mosques minarets, and to lock the mosques in Switzerland. The proclamation of Streich's conversion to Islam has created furore in Swiss politics, besides causing a tremor for those who supported ban on construction of mosques minarets.

    He says that he used to read the Bible and often went to chapel, but now he recites the Holy Quran and offers his prayers five times a day. He further says that he cancelled his party membership and made public his conversion. Streich says that he has found the truth of life in Islam, which he could not find in Christianity.

  6. hall from malaysia

    why the west want everything from muslim countries? administration, culture, artifacts, minerals, petroleum and now to manipulate religion. this last 10 yrs they hv taken 1.5 millions iraqis lives

  7. Lloyd Hargrove from USA

    Excellent story. I should think that a moslem would appreciate such a "step in the right direction" as anyone of another faith using the proper name of God as long as all due honor and respect is paid. It proves that such users know that much (at least) which is always a good start.

  8. John from Singapore

    Anwar should settle his SODOMY trial first . Only than he can talk about this issue.

  9. tan koo chye from U.S.

    Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful exhortation; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.

    QUOTE: Local sensitivities have been aroused over this issue. They should be handled through dialogue and engagement. END QUOTE

    Did the Malaysian Christians try to engaged the Msians Muslims in a dialogue? No. Instead they went straight to a non-Muslim judge to decide on a matter that is so obviously pertains to the Muslims. And having seen how he country was torn apart by the issue they are still yet to drop it. The thing is MR Anwar, the Msian Christian are not short of other terms to define God. There are thousands of words that can be used to described the word God but instead they choose the one word that they know is going to cause rife. Why? Sure the word was in the bible from Indonesia but how does that become the Msian Muslim problem. If the people who translated the bible incorrectly ask them to correct it. In any case, if you ask Christian all over the world if they would like to see the word Allah in their bible I don't think they would like it either.

  10. hall from malaysia

    Christian god = god + son of god + holy spirit

    = god + human + angel

    Muslim god = Allah SWT all by Himself and no

    equivalent. No beginning and no

    ending.(look to Quran for Allah

    definition.

    The different is tooo great, like heaven and earth between Muslim god and Christian god.Language error must be corrected, christian must stop call their god Allah if it mean god = god + son + holy spirit.

  11. hall from malaysia

    today their move is from god to Allah. Tomorrow their move is to push muslims from Allah to god. why...years ago they say Allah = god. but muslims god is not the same god of the christians god.christians charged muslims god is the moon god. muslims becareful of the christian tounges.

  12. Jose from usa

    I certaintly oppose destructions of houses of worship but the same has been done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine by Israel and American forces. Also christians have been living in Malaysia for years. Are they just finding "Allah" as a new name to use to convert muslims? Yes that's what they trying to do. It's true that Allah simply means God. But when you debate many christians on religious matter, they usually dont acknowldge Allah to mean God or creator. What they tryin to do in malaysia is to forment violence. They are alway double standard. I have many years of experience with christian people. Please if you dont live in malaysia, dont critizise the situations there because whatever info you have is from anti-Islam propaganda. Almost all muslims understand that Allah means God therefore, they cant claim "Allah".

    Furthermore, the idea of Abramaic faith is not accurate. Quran says that "Ibrahim was neither a Jew nor a christian but a true muslim" so why would anyone said Jews(Judaism), Christians along with Islam are Abramaic faith?. Rather, it should be Muslims, Jews and Christians ackwoledge prophet Abraham(AS). If you dont know the fact about current Malaysia crisis, please better not just critizise Muslims or anyone. The same they do in NIgeria claiming Muslim north killing Christian South is the news fed to us from Routers and BBC. Fear Allah on what you hear and say. Everythig they publish is to antigonise Islam and it cause. We live in the world of Dajjah today, so be very careful even if it's islamicity

  13. Khan Faisal from India

    Assalamualaikum warahmatullah wabarakatahu.

    This was good ideology with which I'm agreed upon. I feel that all the Muslims, Christians and Jews they worship (directly or indirectly) the same and only god Allah and I'm sure that most of Muslim brothers and sisters know about this so I'm shocked with the reaction of fellow brothers over the use of Allah as the translation of word God by Christians. According to me at this moment the scholars and intellectuals of islam should make a move and make the Muslims know that all this three religion, though may appear different, have originated from the Abraham (pbuh), one of the prophets and the messengers of one and only God Allah (swt). Brothers and sisters of Islam my opinion to you all is to please understand the ground realities of our religion and don't take any decision in rush, it is not necessary to tell you all that the camera, the spying eyes of western media is upon us and upon Islam, they want just a small matter to make mountain out of mole. so act decisively and after all believe in the mercy of Allah. Most gracious, Most merciful. Inshallah those who are ignorant will come to Siraat-ul-Mustaqeem, and who knows that this small word may be the start of that revolution. Pray to Allah that show them the right path. Amin

    Wassalamualaikum warahmatullah wabarakatahu.

  14. Muhammed Abdul Latiff from Singapore

    It is neither you nor the Malaysian (not even the Arabs) who gave God His Name. It is God the All-Knowing Himself who gave the name Allah. Thus; it is He (and only He) who is the Absolute Monopoly Onwer of the name Allah and none of his creations share any part of that ownership.

    For us to try to assume that right of assigning its onwership is equivalent to assuming to having a full knowledge and understanding of the name.

    None of his creation will have that full knowledge save God Himself - the All Knowing. It is learnt therefore that God is Allah when and only when, God is attributed a description by Allah Himself.

    In His divine revelation in surah 112 of the Holy Quran, Allah made a very clear description of his attributes as God.

    It is when and only when that same and equal attribute is ascribe to God, then God is Allah. Anything less is just god man created - who have no right whatsoever to claim any part of the name Allah.

    A Jew will have the right to claim his God is Allah, so can a Malay, so can a Chinese, so can an Arab but that GOD MUST be as describe by Allah himself - nothing less, nothing more.

    Till then we must humble ourself before God not claim His All-Knowing attribute.