Friday, October 18, 2013

Battle Over Allah

We are a weird nation when it comes to religion. It is not free and the state has come to own the right to control how its people decide their God. It is definitely an intrusion into the rights and privacy as far as Islam is concerned. No Muslim of Malaysian citizenship is truly free to come and go. And if you convert in, it is very very hard to convert out. There are hurdles, obstacles and implications on inheritance and property sharing. 

The same cannot be said of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and other religions. There is freedom of choice. So why is Islam, or shall I say, Malaysian version of Islam different? I don't know of any other country where you are a Muslim for life and your children automatically Muslim and none may convert out. I want to suggest that Islam has been hijacked and politicized by the ruling government to perpetuate their rule over the people, especially the Malay people who are all Muslims by law. Very few Malays succeeded in converting out when they felt they want to practice another faith, and some migrate to other countries without such restrictions. Strangely, Indonesia being the largest Islamic nation in the world does not impose religious control on her citizens and there is freedom of choice. I feel Indonesia is more democratic in this respect. Although there are church bombings there, much more than in Malaysia they were carried out by those who dislike Christianity. But the Indonesian government certainly did not clamp religious freedom like the BN government here. And the lid is about to blow.

Malaysia has a predominant Muslim population, some 60+% with Christians taking up 9-10% and the rest Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. The cabinet is predominantly Muslim too and we have a Muslim prime minister. The welfare of the minority religions are seldom provided until appealed. The government seems to think they owe it to propagate and defend Islam. It has undertaken roles it is not supposed to perform. It has interfered into the lives of every Malaysian and stirs up dangerous religious sentiments that risk going out of control if not pacified.

The Allah issue is not new. It had simmered for more than 10 years. The official reason for banning Christians from referring to their God as Allah too is that it has created confusion amongst the Muslims. Has it? Was there a survey? Or is it merely an excuse to champion Islam for the Malays at the expenses of annoying the defenseless minorities? Truth is a government shouldn't take side. Its tenure is to administer the nation during its term as best as possible. But if the government after it has been elected into power continues to play politics instead of settling down to manage the economy and welfare of its people, and uses religion to instil division and hatred, then it has exceeded its mandate. The people must not tolerate a government that is divisive and not attend to pressing problems like rising crime rates, unrepressed corruption, high cost of living, declining standard of living and poor delivery of education.

The Catholic weekly newsletter for internal circulation, the Herald, was banned from referring to the Christian God as Allah in its Malay edition. Four years ago the High Court lifted the ban but recently the Appeal Court reinstated it creating new rounds of furore. Readers need to know that English speaking Christians don't use Allah for God. Only the indigenous people who don't speak English and are Christians refer to God as Allah, which has been evidenced from historical records as a term that pre-dated Islam. In other word Allah doesn't belong to Islam. It was a word used in the Middle East to mean god and is also used in the Quran. And no country apart from Malaysia stops others from referring to Allah as their god, so why are we so insistent? Is the government afraid of many Muslims leaving their faith? To deny the indigenous Christians their rights to continue worshipping God using Allah is unconstitutional. Allah doesn't belong to the Malays.

So why is the government, and the non-independent judiciary, so biased and defensive towards Islam? Many observers felt Islam has become a political tool to foster unity among the Muslims. Nothing wrong to say that Muslims will do all they can to strengthen their followership, but when the government interferes, and the judges take the cue how to deliver their verdicts, then we are heading into untested and very dangerous territory. Much damage has been done with encouraging the extremist elements. We must steer back to the moderate path that provide peace, stability and harmony of living together that all Malaysians aspire for themselves and their children. Goodwill is very lacking, all because the government is more concerned with their political survival and pander to using mass emotion to drum up its support. Sad and shameful.


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