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Sanity Still Exists

On the first day of 2010, the Malaysian High Court ruled that a government ban on the use of 'Allah' to refer to God by non-Muslims was unconstitutional.

This came about from a lawsuit brought by the Catholic Church of Malaysia against the federal government over the Malay language edition of its weekly publication, the Herald, in which it referred to God as 'Allah'. In 2007, the government initiated a 3-year ban on the use of 'Allah' in the Herald to refer to God, citing that Allah was the name of the God of Muslims, and should be used exclusively as such. The Catholic Church filed for a judicial review, on the grounds that Allah is the proper Malay translation for God. Moreover, the etymology of 'Allah' strongly shows that it is the Arabic name of God for Christians, Jews and Muslims throughout the Middle East, and is not a word exclusive to any single religion. The High Court of Malaysia agreed.

Almost immediately, religious groups in Malaysia, conservative, Muslim and otherwise, took sides on the issue. Four churches were fire-bombed in the aftermath of the ruling. While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, every party involved in the debate, especially the federal government, has roundly criticised the violence. Nor has agreement with the High Court ruling been divided along traditional lines. The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), often considered one of the hard-line representatives of the religious right, stated right off the bat that it respected the High Court's decision. The Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) and various Islamic youth organisations staged protests in mosques throughout the country against the ruling, in the belief that 'Allah' should be reserved exclusively for the Islamic God, and that its use by non-Muslims would confuse Muslims into converting to Christianity. This is in line with the federal government's stance on the issue, and why it banned the Herald from using 'Allah' in its publication to begin with -- that the use of 'Allah' to refer to any God other than the Islamic one would confuse young Muslims, especially rural (implying less educated) Muslims into converting to religions other than Islam.

Two gaps in the logic of this argument immediately become apparent. The first is that on any other day, Muslims would be the first religious group to acknowledge that Allah, the God of Islam is the God of Christians and Jews. One of the core beliefs of Islam is that it is the final form of the Abrahamic faiths, in which Moses and Jesus are true prophets of the religion as much as Muhammad. This would imply that 'Allah' is the name of God for all these religions, and thus, not in error when used by any Abrahamic religion other than Islam to refer to God.

The second is the sheer intellectual elitism that spurs the above Muslim NGOs and the federal government to assume calling God 'Allah' is enough to convert rural youth away from Islam, and that our youth need to be protected from their neighbours' religions. If all it takes to confuse a Muslim is to reference God as 'Allah' in a non-Muslim text, that must be some strong faith the believers have indeed.

Also telling is the fact that Malaysian Christians do not seem to be concerned their youth will be converted to Islam upon realising that Allah is also the God of Muslims. Are Malaysian Christians simply much firmer in their faith than their Muslim peers?

When we assume that our youth are incapable of reasoning for themselves, and that they lack the faculties to form their own opinions, we are damning the future of our country. We are damning the multitudinal individuals that form the fabric of our democracy, and damning our democratic process in action. If we cannot trust our youth to think for themselves, how can we trust them to rule the country after us? Indeed, ABIM may have shot itself in the proverbial foot on taking up this cause. The fact that they, as a representative of Malaysian Muslim youth, have not converted to Christianity over the use of 'Allah' to refer to the Christian God, proves that their faith and their capacity to decide their own spiritual path remains unmolested by the ruling.

The High Court of Malaysia ruled justly in this case. It protected the rights of all Malaysians, young and old, to practice the faith of their choosing, and to express their opinions as such. It protected the right of the Malaysian Catholic Church to call its God Allah, and protected the right of Muslim youth NGOs to demonstrate peacefully in public prayer spaces against that same thought. It even protected the right of the federal government to form an opinion about Allah and stick with it -- even if it ultimately prevailed for the benefit of the majority of Malaysians -- the entire point of a democratic administration. This ruling is not a slight on the rights of any Malaysian; it is a victory of our Constitution. It is a reaffirmation that in the face of growing religious conservatism and racial division in our beloved country, we as a democratic, proudly multicultural nation, will prevail. I for one, certainly hope so.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 11th, 2010 04:20 pm (UTC)
Long time no see!

But on topic...

Meanwhile on the first day of 2010, Ireland's law criminalizing blasphemy (defined as uttering or publishing material which outrages a substantial number of adherents to a religious belief), and applying massive fines and serious jailtime to the offense came into force.

Work on my book "Muslims, Scientologists and Christians (Especially Catholics) all Suck: A Tome of Anecdotes and Repartee Specifically Intended to Outrage the Religious" has begun.
Jan. 11th, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC)
You're really desperate to get kicked out of your country, aren't ya?
Jan. 19th, 2010 08:33 am (UTC)
*applause* My faith in humanity is restored for now.
Jan. 19th, 2010 05:41 pm (UTC)
That's good. :)

The High Court is still stalling implementation of its ruling for now, due to concerns there may be further escalation, but I still think it did good.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )