Isnin, Januari 18, 2010



It is not always right to use our rights. In matters of religion, history, logic and reason must not apply exclusively. Emotions must be regarded.
The desecration of several places of Christian worship must be condemned as a shameless and mindless atrocity. A democratic society does not resolve disputes through violence.
It is obvious that we have in our midst a lunatic fringe that has no understanding of religion or of the Constitution or of the traditions of tolerance and multi-culturalism that made Malaysia an exemplar for all other plural societies.
In the midst of gloom it is heartening to note that a large number of Muslims, including the Prime Minister, have joined grieving Christians to condemn this outrage.
Church leaders have shown exceptional restraint and have been true to their faith by condemning the sin but forgiving the sinners.
We have to put this national shame behind us and to move on to resolve the “Allah issue” in a spirit of compassion, moderation and accommodation.
Through the looking glass of the Christians, I can clearly see that although the word Allah has obvious reverence for Muslims, no one can deny that Allah is also a term of language.
For centuries, in the whole of Arabia, followers of all semitic religions have used the word Allah to refer to their own God. Arab-speaking Christians use Allah al-ab (God the father), Allah al-ibn (God the son), Allah al-quds (God the Holy Spirit).
Such transcendence of common symbols and vocabulary must be commended, not condemned. In any case the Muslim belief in one and only one God necessitates acceptance that Allah is for everyone and not just for Muslims.
There is also the constitutional dimension of freedom of religion in Article 11(1) and the right to free speech in Article 10(1)(a). These Articles are broad enough to permit any one to invoke whatever language or sentiment he wishes to invoke in order to open his heart and soul to God.
Muslim leaders must also acknow­ledge their role in this imbrogilo. They banned local translations of the Bible into Malay. This forced Malay-speaking Christians, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, to import Bibles from Indonesia.
Bibles in Bahasa Indonesia use Allah to refer to the Christian God.
The Muslim argument that use of the word Allah by non-Muslims will confuse the Muslim population is demeaning.
It paints the Muslims as an extremely ignorant and gullible lot. It ignores the fact that Islam took deep roots in Malaya hundreds of years ago and became the identifying feature of the Malay persona.
The Islamic faith was not shattered during British rule. Why should it be so easily shaken now after 52 years of Muslim rule, 52 years of Islamic education and a vigorous dakwah movement?
However, looking at the issue through Muslim lenses, many issues tug at my conscience. First, it is not always right to use our rights. Freedom per se has no value. It is what freedom is for. It is the use to which it is put. It is the sense of responsibility and restraint with which it is exercised.
Take the one hundred million Muslims in India for example. Despite their rights in secular India’s Constitution, they refrain from butchering the cow because the cow is regarded as sacred by the majority Hindus.
In the British case of Humphries vs Connors, 1864, a Protestant lady was marching in a predominantly Catholic area with an orange lily in her buttonhole. For historical reasons that evoked painful memories for the Catholics.
A police constable plucked the lily away. In an action against the officer for assault, the court held that the officer was within his duty to prevent breaches of the peace.
Similar considerations apply in Malaysia. The constitutional right to freedom of religion is subjected by Article 11(4) to restrictions on proselytisation. Article 11(5) subordinates religion to public order, public health or morality.
A relevant law on public order is section 298 of the Penal Code which punishes the offence of wounding religious feelings.
These feelings are likely to be wounded if there is a claim that Allah was born in the manger; that Allah was born of Mary; that Allah was crucified on the cross.
The Muslim doctrine is that Allah does not beget and cannot be begotten. He cannot be depicted in any physical form. He cannot be part of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
To argue that the word Allah is central to the Christian faith and that any restriction on its usage would hinder freedom of conscience of the Christians requires a willing suspension of disbelief.
Other than in the Arab Peninsula and in Sabah and Sarawak, the word Allah has never been part of Christian discourse or sermons. Certainly in west Malaysia the word was not part of Christian vocabulary up to now.
The Herald’s new found love for Arabic words is indeed very touching but one cannot fail to note that the import of Arabic words is rather selective.
Tan Sri Dzulkifli of USM has pointed out that in the Malay translation of the Bible, the word Allah is used to refer to the Lord God but Mary, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Michael and other revered figures are not given their Arabic names.
One must also remember that Malaysia is not Arab-speaking and Christian sermons in Malay could just as well use words like Tuhan, Dewa, Dewata and Betara without any diminution of freedom of conscience.
The plaintiffs in the Herald case must also take note that there is suspicion, unjustified though it may be, that the use of the word Allah is an indirect attempt to proselytize Muslims contrary to Article 11(4).
The argument that the Church will be using the word Allah only privately is credible but we all know that it does not take much to put a private publication in the public domain.
All in all it can be said that in relation to the Herald case, the general Muslim reaction is too emotional and is based on lack of knowledge.
The Herald, on the other hand, has lots of facts but no tact. Its arguments rely on cold logic, history and rationality but there is total disregard of local context and of religious sensitivities.
It is submitted that in matters of religion, history, logic and reason must not apply exclusively. Emotions must be regarded. Sometimes rights must give way to the need for social harmony. We need to find a middle path.
The case of Sabah and Sarawak Christians who have a long tradition of using the word Allah without any inter-religious problems needs to be sympathetically considered.
In the long range, encouragement must be given to replace Indonesian translations of the Bible with Malaysian renditions. All restrictions on the printing of Bibles in the Malay language must be lifted.
In relation to west Malaysian Christians, there is no need to use the sledgehammer of the Printing Press­es Act to impose prior restrai­nts. A Home Ministry advice on the consequences of violating Articles 11(4), 11(5) and section 298 of the Penal Code will be sufficient. If this advice is not followed, prosecutions can be commenced.
The judicial process should be allowed to continue without any intimidation. However neither judicial decisions nor executive proclamations can make this heart-wrenching problem go away.
We need inter-faith dialogue to find comprehensive political and administrative solutions for our tattered fabric of inter-religious relationships. There are many painful issues and piece-meal solutions will not be enough.
Fair and moderate solutions will require leadership and sacrifice. As the Rev Jesse Jackson said “leaders of substance do not follow opinion polls; they mould opinion, not with guns or power of position but with the power of their souls”.

> Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM and Visiting Professor at USM.

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