Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

the test of our time

The Holy festival of Eid al-Adha has always been a joyous occasion in Malaysia, where it would be graced with an overall spirit of togetherness and respect for all, on top of the religious duties performed by Muslims to commemorate the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim and our love for Allah.

But the celebration this year was unlike any I have experienced before. For one, it was done in a somber mood. Tensions were shooting through the roofs and the relevance of Islam as the national and official religion of this country was questioned. Second, whether the Muslims were aware of the situation or not, we were sorely tested. And while some of us might have kept fighting on the verbal battlefield, many of us diverted our paths and as I said, might not be aware of what we did.

I saw my fellow Muslims, projecting their own logical thoughts and infusing them into the concept of Akidah, to appear apologetic and politically-correct when tested with rage and overhyped issues such as the usage of 'kalimah Allah'. When Muslims were made to appear that they (would always) have the upper hand because Islam is protected in the constitution, many were afraid to be accused of being oppressive towards the minorities.

When the Court of Appeal made an unanimous decision to prohibit the use of the word 'Allah' in the publication of the Catholic church, 'Herald-the Catholic Weekly' just days before Eid al-Adha, many took to Twitter and Facebook to express their reaction to the ruling.

Some activists cried the ruling as symbolizing the 'death of the protection of minorities rights' (as Christians comprised 9.2% of the population), non-Muslims who do not understand the usage of 'Allah' by the Muslim population started comparing the court's judgement to the act of copywriting a product, while Muslims themselves, at least on my social media timeline could come up with statements like, "In remembering the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim, we have sacrificed the rights of minorities" and "I would not automatically come out of Islam just because I read the word Allah in a Christian magazine".

I was shaken by the spur of outrage, especially from the Muslims, NGOs and the international media. Just google the phrase 'Allah non-Muslim Malaysia' and you will get stories from CNN, TIME, Al-Jazeera, WSJ and other media outlets worldwide--portraying Malaysia as just another repressive, close-minded Muslim country that have very little to none recognition of human rights (even our own alternative media was at blame for that portrayal). For days I find myself unable to sleep properly, I was confused, not at my understanding of the issue but on how to make the rest of them understand that it was not what they conceived the situation to be.

There were a lot of debates on the usage of 'Allah' by the Muslims; people were at each other's neck to state their point. Quotes by ulamas' and scholars such as Yusuf al-Qardawi, Prof. Syed Naquib al-Attas,former Mufti of Perak Dr. Asri Zainal Abidin, among a few, were tossed arounds in social media discussions. Some Muslims took to their own logic thinking to come up with judgements. Politicians from both side of the divide joined in the bandwagon and suddenly became self-proclaimed 'protectors' of the religion/minorities/constitution/human rights. Pick a side. There was a batallion waiting at each juncture of opinion. Non-Muslims were as vocal as the Muslims. Local-based cartoonist, Zunar, mocked the three judges as 'idiots' in his drawing. No action was taken against him for insulting the court. International scholars, well known and respected scholars like Ingrid Mattson tweeted a link from the news portal and said that Malaysia have done wrong, Creative Writing lecturer and Muslim American Reza Aslan also tweeted about it with something that goes like this, "How stupid can Malaysia be? This stupid". It was a troubling time for all social-media conscious Muslims in Malaysia, I think, especially those of my generation who felt dehumanized by the world. I understood why some took to proclaiming that the usage of Allah by the Catholics have nor harm effects...perhaps they were embarrassed by the cyber bullying on the issue but it is prove of our hollowness and ineptness in dealing with the trials for Muslims in the modern time.

The issue swelled from just on the usage of 'Allah' in a Malay-language Catholic Weekly to the rights of religions in Malaysia. Islam and Muslims, were seen as totalitarians and some Muslims I mentioned earlier in this post were eager to brushed off the perception by sacrificing the sanctity of the religion to please others.

Whatever the final opinion was, it was evident by the end of the week that the chaos signify a pertinent problem in the Muslim society: We are confuse of our own religion and most of all, our persistence in appearing 'politically-correct' was shaped by the worldview of non-Muslims. We subscribed to the values in United Nation Human Rights Declaration but we do not seek into our own al-Quran for the values to uphold.

When it comes to our confusion in debating this issue, I realized a number of recurrent arguments that were brought up:
1) Christians in Indonesia have been using the word 'Allah' to describe god for centuries (ever since the Dutch colonization) and the Muslims were able to co-exist peacefully despite this
2) Some Muslim scholars have said that non-Muslims are allowed to use the word 'Allah' such as the opinion of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi
3) Christians in Sabah & Sarawak have been using 'Allah' in their Bible for many many years

To these three points I shall answer with only one word: Yes. All points have some degree of correctness in them but to what extent? Muslims were confused when they came face to face with these arguments and end up giving up because we didn't know how to answer.

Tan Sri Prof Syed Naquib Al-Attas, known for his strong opinion on this issue, said this during one of his lecture:

“Allah” is not from Bahasa Malaysia. It is not a national language. It belongs to the language of Muslim all over the world. Therefore your argument using this for the word “Allah” does not fit into your idea of God. Because “Allah” does not have a son,  It is not one of three (Trinity), that is why out of respect to Allah we can’t allow you to use this.“

"But when we Muslim, when we write in English we say God, or when we talk to people we say God but we mean “Allah”…but they (Christians) cannot say when they speak about God it means “Allah” as they don’t mean it.
So in this particular respect, we have to be clear about this, not was-was (hesitate)...whomever responsible in our governing, they have to be clear about this and to explain to others"

"We agree you want to use God, then use Tuhan as we also use that…but we understand in the Malay language that Tuhan is not a translation of Allah..that is why we say “tiada Tuhan melainkan Allah” not “tiada Tuhan melainkan Tuhan”.

"So “Allah” cannot be translated as no language has translated Allah. The Arabs themselves they only use that after Islam..although the word existed (before)..the Christians Arab they also did not use Allah (in theological, epistemological and ontological sense in the same manner as the Muslim)"

"But then if they used it and said “in Indonesia they have use it, why can’t we?”…but it is because of the Muslims..if Muslims don’t care they will go on and use it..and in Indonesia they are using not only that, other things they even call it “choir” as “selawat”. Choir is not a “selawat”, as “selawat” is for Prophet..it’s not singing hymn"

"And they also talk about..in Indonesia they are also confuse..Muslims..that is why this thing happen" 

For the full transcript of this particular speech, please click here: Prof Al-Attas on Kalimah Allah

For useful articles you can read on this issue please click the link below:
1) 10 point solution to Kalimah Allah issue 
2) Media statement by the Malaysian Muslim Lawyers Association (some of their members represent the government in the case)
3) "In Nomine Gusti Ingkang Murbeng Dumadi, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti", Snuok Hurgronje and the Allah Issue

It is up to our own intellect and 'Iman' to understand the happenings of our time. Sometimes human nature such as cruelty, oppression and anger confuses us and we were faced with the pressure to take a side. My take on this was to always pick the side that pleases Allah and not any international media outlets, creative writing lecturer or your so called liberal or non-Muslims friends. I believe that Allah will only want justice and to Him should we seek the means to place everything in their proper places, hence the concept of justice. I felt like I was tested that day and at some degree, I failed, when I found myself so deeply affected and saddened by the negative coverage we had of the affair. But I learn a big lesson from this and I hope so do you.