Muslim Groups Fight For Church’s Right To Use Allah

Christians are not alone in their struggle to use the word "Allah" in Malaysia, as Muslim non-governmental organisations (NGO) have taken it upon themselves to educate fellow Malays that the word predates Islam. Islamic NGOs, such as Sisters in Islam (SIS) and the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), have taken to social media to spread awareness on the issue, bringing with them views that are a far cry from the threats and exclusivity espoused by groups such as Perkasa and Isma.

“Yes, it is possible for Muslims to voice their support (for the Christians), and Muslims have been doing that – most visibly on social media. There’s been an outpouring of voices who have critiqued the Federal Court’s decision (on the Allah issue),” SIS programme manager Suri Kempe told The Malaysian Insider.

“SIS has also been using our social media channels as a platform for discussion, which is essential for people to understand the issue and formulate an opinion.”

On its Facebook page, SIS shares articles and quotes that run contrary to the rigid views of Islam most Malaysian Muslims are accustomed to. One quote it shared was by Tunisian human rights lawyer Alya Chammari, a Muslim, who said: “Religion should not be used by any political party. No one has the right to present themselves as the spokesperson of God.”

But IRF chief Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa told The Malaysian Insider that their efforts to support the Church’s right to use "Allah" were an uphill battle, as most Malaysian Muslims had been taught from young only one interpretation of Islam, without making efforts to take part in intellectual discourse.

“The thing is, their ideas are simple. The Malays, they don’t want to think so much. They want a simple answer: halal or haram,” said Farouk.

“They are very orthodox and conventional in their understanding of Islam, they don’t understand the discourse of the 21st century.”

He said IRF, SIS and Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia had organised forums to stimulate discourse, but noted that they had only achieved limited success, and their impact was mostly felt in urban areas such as the Klang Valley and Penang.

“The challenge is to educate the masses. But it’s getting difficult, because most materials and discourse are in English.

“And here we have the government trying to prevent certain English books from being translated into Malay. They are basically trying to curtail the freedom of information among the Malays and create a society that is streamlined in its thoughts.”

He said he had also been told that IRF’s ideas were sometimes so sophisticated that people were facing difficulty understanding the message.

“The struggle is a long way to go, and I don’t know whether I will live to see the change in Malay society,” added Farouk.

The Muslim NGOs were commenting on a call by a United Nations (UN) official who had suggested that moderate Muslims and intellectuals get on board to lend weight to the church’s fight to use the word Allah, as the ban undermined Islam by turning Allah into a personal name of the Islamic God.

“A vast majority of Muslims will agree that it undermines Islam by turning Allah into a personal name of the Islamic God,”

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, had told The Malaysian Insider in a telephone interview over the weekend. But Farouk noted that it was unfair to place the onus on civil society alone, noting that political leaders present a major hurdle as most refused to take a stand or even control state religious agencies.

“Intellectuals are already being forward-looking in voicing out against discrimination of the minorities. I think more emphasis should be given on the government of the day and also local state governments.

“There is no political will or power from our leaders. They are the ones who allow bigots to run amok,” said Farouk.

On June 23, the Catholic Church’s battle over the use of the word “Allah” in their weekly publication ended after the Federal Court dismissed its leave application to appeal the ban. Muslim scholars and clerics, both locally and worldwide, have criticised the ban, noting that the word predated Islam and simply meant “God” in Arabic.


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15.7.2014 / 47

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