Viewpoint: The Way To End The “Allah” Row - By Zaid Ibrahim

The Prime Minister and the Malay Rulers must discuss this issue with detachment and clarity. They should begin by returning to the pre-1988 status quo.

They should then look through the reports of the Home Minister at the time (Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar). They should consult the religious departments of the various states.

The Prime Minister will then see that Muslims did not suddenly wake up in 1988 and realise that the word “Allah” was theirs alone. They did not make much of a fuss in the years before that.

There must have been a reason for the controversy. The reason is this: there was a real concern at that time that some Christian evangelists were aggressively converting Muslims. Although Muslims are legally protected from being “converted”, this had not prevented some groups from attempting to do so anyway.

Instead of dealing with these unlawful activities in an effective, methodical and above all rational and respectful way, the Government took the easy and lazy way out. It merely gazetted a few regulations banning the use of some words and thought the problem would go away. The state religious authorities took a similar route by passing laws to prevent “Allah” and other words of Arabic origin from being used by non-Muslims. They thought this would stop the process of conversion.

The issue of conversion or proselytising Muslims is a separate issue and must be dealt with carefully in a way that will not upset Christians. The majority of Christians respect the laws of the country and I don’t think they will mind if the Government were to set up a special task force to look into conversions.

The Prime Minister and the Malay Rulers can make this point to Muslims: that in exchange for the use of the word “Allah” by the Christians in their prayers, publications and the Malay Bible, Christians in turn will support the enactment of special laws and enforcement mechanisms to protect the Muslims from any conversion.

If one looks at the laws and regulations prohibiting the use of “Allah” and other words, the title to these laws and regulations are self-explanatory. The Selangor Enactment, for example, refers to the promulgation of laws for the protection and control of Muslims from other faiths. The raison d’être of this ban is to protect Muslims from forced conversion which is a legitimate concern that has not been addressed openly enough.  Few ask, for example, what makes some Muslims susceptible to conversion in the first place.

Unfortunately and unknown to Muslim politicians, the word “Allah” is very much a part of Christian linguistic tradition (to say the least) in this country. The ban was a knee-jerk reaction that caused widespread animosity between the Muslims and the Christians. It’s not too late to revisit the matter for the sake of the country.

Proselytising Muslims has long been illegal. Thus, effectively punishment of evangelists who break the law ought to offend no one. At the same time, the Prime Minister and other authorities must urge Muslims to respect the beliefs of Christians in the country.

If Christians say “Allah” is integral to their Scriptures and their faith, then let’s accept that and move on. Equally, Christians should affirm that they will respect the rights of Muslims to practise their faith undisturbed. No one should engage in deceitful, coercive or unlawful activities to convert anyone else — it’s not only illegal but morally repugnant.

We need to be a little more clear-headed and a little less emotional.

This is the only way forward for the Prime Minister.

Note: This article was extracted from the blog of Dato’ Mohd Zaid Ibrahim a lawyer by profession who was the former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of legal affairs and judicial reform.

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