Monday, January 4, 2010

The‘Allah’ controversy- alamak don’t miss the contextlah!

I watch in dismay the development of controversy over the usage of the term ‘Allah’. The issue is so high in public consciousness that I don’t need to give the facts and background of it, suffice for me to simply speak of ‘the controversy’. In my dismay, I am thankful though that Allah has blessed me with a simple mind, hence always seeing things in plain terms and uncomplicated manner. I have learnt much from the various posting of the subjects, though I confess most of the sophisticated arguments are quite beyond me.

Firstly, as I see it, the case is about ‘the usage’ of the term ‘Allah’ by the Herald, so to my mind the relevant questions would be do they have the right to the use? How have they been using it? What is their intention in so using? Is their usage or intention offensive to others, not only legally or constitutionally, but also by other standards of social or ethical propriety?

The court had decided on the question of right to the usage,favouring the Herald with the right albeit in limited context and for very specific ‘internal’ purpose. I must confess I don’t have enough information to judge on many of the other questions. I have not seen a copy of the Herald (has the Home Affairs been very effective in this respect?) to help me see what is the manner of usage. As for the many questions pertaining to intention, this belong to our own analysis and evaluation of past and future conduct of the group behind the Herald. Many perceptive analysis and observation had been posted in various blogs, as well as not so perceptive ones, and readers can avail themselves of their freedom of speech and expression, as well as freedom of religion, to peruse them.

Following the judgment, a controversy in now raging, though the PM and the government is appealing for restraint. The much welcome news to the Muslims that the government is appealing against the judgment has somewhat moderated their anger, though I believe only for the moment as they watch further development. Many blogs and comments therein had expressed concern that the legal wrangling of appeal and possible counter appeal and so forth may be costly for the religious harmony of our nation. I share deeply their concern.

I have followed the discourse on the matter and I am moved to jot down my own thoughts for sharing with readers. Firstly I notice that what started as a constitutional and legal case has now assume the nature of theological controversy, internally and externally to the various faith. Some Muslims for example had taken upon themselves to explain to Muslims that the usage of the term by non-Muslims had always been current in the Middle East and that it is commanded by Allah according to the Al-Quran, from which they quote profusely in support of their position. Somehow, this position seems to coincide generally with the response of PAS and PKR leaders, for whatever reasons. This position has the effect of trivializing or even derogating the anger and anxiety of concern Muslims in the region.

While sharing the ‘common use of Allah’ argument in other context, I beg to differ within the specific context of the current controversy. This ‘common use ’ argument pertains to mankind’s monotheistic quest for One Absolute God. Hence the common heritage of the term ‘Allah’ in the Middle East, being the cradle of the various Judaic-Christian and Islamic religion, all of them tracing their roots and origin to the monotheism of Abraham. Where they differ is in their testimony of their faithfulness to the original spirit of their source. This explains why the currency and commonality of the usage of ‘Allah’ within the context of the Middle East, a context which includes the raging and seemingly endless religious conflict in that region.

Now it is fair for me to say, I think, that the word and the concept of ‘Allah’ in Southeast Asia has been more closely associated with islamization or the spread of Islam in the region. To cite simply the common use of ‘Allah’ in the Middle East as an argument for Southeast Asia is to take the word out of its proper socio-historical or even religious context, and artificially transplant it on to our own situation. We cannot pretend Southeast Asia to be the cradle of the Judaic-Christian and Islamic faith. On the other hand to be sure, we can certainly import the conflicts of the Middle East, of the crusade, into Southeast Asia if we choose to ignore the Southeast Asian context and be a part of the Middle Eastern conflict. I for one think we should strive to maintain our religious harmony at all cost!

To insist on the common use of the term within our present controversy is to actually give it the very opposite meaning as used in the Middle East. Within the context ofthe Middle East the word ‘Allah’ refers to the belief in his Absoluteness and Oneness, which is the original source of the Judaic-Christian and Islamic religion. It is an argument for universalism against sectarianism.In this respect it is intended to be a unifying symbol. In contrast to this,the present controversy over the use of 'Allah'seems to be heading more in the direction of sectarianism, away from the meaning of 'Allah'as the One Absolute God.

Let’s be light-hearted and not get highly strung over the issue,though we certainly need to keep a cool head. The point I really want to make is that the meaning of words and symbols are contextual. We all know, the Indonesian words like ‘gampang’, ‘butuh’, ‘bisa’ are ordinary words, functional and useful words in the Indonesian context, but in Bahasa Malaysia or Bruneian Malay they would be offensive indeed ( check the different dictionaries if you miss my point). Words and symbols do have their contextual meaning. Hope we never lose sight of this in facing the current controversy in our midst.

1 comment:

  1. pakpandair,

    Minister Nazri said the Judge was wrong in the decision over the use of the word Allah. This was stated by The Malaysian Insider.

    Nazri is a Minister and a lawyer. Saying that is a clear indication that people can talk about the issue irrespective of the fact that an appeal has been filed.

    I'm not into deep discussions and well-researched arguments though I like reading them. I agree with what you said.

    My simple argument is that Allah is an Arabic word. Christian Arabs can use it to refer to their God because Allah is their mother tongue. In Malaysia, the lingua franca is Bahasa Malaysia and the word Tuhan aptly describes their God. In any case, the Christian concept of God involves the Trinity of The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost.

    It certainly will confuse the uninitiated to read about Allah in the context of the Trinity. As some one has pointed out, Allah is Esa, not Isa. Allah is the one and only whereas the Christian God may be more than one. Confusion may make the readers become susceptible to the process of Christianisation. The blog entitled "Pure Shiite" has written substantively about that process.

    That blog mentions about one woman dubbed "the Confident lady" having said that confident Muslims need not be prone to Christianisation. But I can confidently say that she is ignorant of the level of confidence and education that exists among the majority of Malays and Muslims in this country, as is among Indonesians in Indonesia. Hence the increasing number of converts to Christianity in Indonesia and also in Malaysia, if what is claimed in the article published in the Washington Post recently is correct.

    No doubt they say The Herald is not for other than the Christian flock. But how strict can enforcement of the paper's distribution be.