Views attributed to influential personalities, including Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, prohibiting the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims are very disturbing — including for those of us whose mother tongue is Iban. Islam is the official religion of this country. No one questions that. Similarly, the Constitution guarantees the right of religious freedom.
Followers of different faiths worship in their own ways and there is always some sensitivity attached to religious issues. Thus, I will not touch on matters of theology or religious doctrine. Moreover, this is more a question of language.
I am told that “Allah” is a standard Arabic word for God and is also widely used in the Middle East by non-Muslims.
Datuk Daud Abdul Rahman, assistant minister in the Chief Minister’s Department (Islamic Affairs) in the Sarawak government, noted that the word had been used by the followers of the Sidang Injil Borneo in Sarawak for more than 50 years.
Furthermore, the Majlis Islam Sarawak does not think that Muslims in Sarawak are confused when non-Muslims use the word “Allah” in their liturgy (Borneo Post — March 9).
My parents and family members were baptised into the Catholic faith in 1947. As a 6-year-old boy, I was taught to pray to “Allah Taala”. The Creed, the acclamation of faith in the Christian prayer, when rendered in Iban begins as follows: “Aku arap ke siko aja’ Allah Taala, Apai Ke besai Kuasa, Ke ngaga Seruga enggau dunia.”
In my own immediate family, through inter-marriage, there are Muslims, Christians and Hindus. Once a year, at Gawai Dayak, we visit the family longhouse. When the prayer leader reads excerpts from the Iban translation of the Bible, the words “Allah Taala” are an integral part of the prayers.
After the Gawai, when we return to Kuala Lumpur, the grandchildren continue to attend mengaji lessons. There is no hint of confusion among the Muslim members of the family.
Ahmad Zahid is no ordinary individual. He received the highest number of votes among the three newly elected vice-presidents in Umno. Going by tradition, it may be expected he will be appointed to a senior and important portfolio in the new cabinet line-up.
One hopes when he is given wider responsibility, as different from aspiring to a post in Umno, he will recognise that those of us who use the word “Allah” or “Allah Taala” in our Christian prayers and publications have no other agenda but to practise our faith in our own language.
How can that be made illegal?
Tan Sri Leo Moggie Anak Irok
6 April, 2009
Originally published in the New Straits Times