A couple of churches were burnt by people who believe that non-Muslims should not use the name Allah when describing God. A very strange motivation indeed when we look at the scripture.
In Surah 22 Verse 40 of the Quran, it is said:
“Had not Allah checked one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure.”
Looks pretty clear to me. There is no scriptural justification to stop non-Muslims from using Allah to describe God. In fact the opposite is true, the name Allah is praised in “monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mos-ques”.
This is not my assertion, this is a quote from the Holy Quran, and there are more in the same vein.
Right, so all these people calling for the ban surely must find their justification elsewhere. There is the law, it is said. In particular, state enactments banning the use of Allah by non-Muslims. We must obey the law they assert.
All right, let’s look at the state laws then. Space prevents me from going through each enactment, so let’s just look at the Selangor enactment of 1988.
In the preamble it says:
“[This is] An enactment to control and restrict the propagation of non-Islamic religious doctrines and beliefs among persons professing the religion of Islam.
“Whereas Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution provides that State law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion, and whereas it is now desired to make a law to control and restrict the propagation of non-Islamic religious doctrine and beliefs among persons professing the religion of Islam, therefore pursuant to Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution it is hereby enacted by the Legislature of the State of Selangor.”
And if we look into the Enactment, we do see a section which lists down words that can’t be used by non-Muslims (it includes Allah). However, the explanatory note to this section states that to do so is “an offence of distributing in a public place publications concerning non-Islamic religions to Muslims”.
Again, this looks very clear, the law was designed to prevent proselytising to Muslims. And the ban on the use of the name Allah by the state law is in the context of proselytising.
If used within the context of their own worship and their own religious community, this law does not apply.
And if we look at Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, the only specific limitation on the freedom of religion is that the proselytising to Muslims (even Muslim to Muslim proselytising) can be controlled.
Other than that everyone is free to practice his or her religion in peace. It is unconstitutional to stop anyone from using the word Allah in their worship if they so choose.
So, the Quran says there’s no problem with peoples of other faiths using “Allah”, the state enactments are limited in their scope, and the Constitution says that everyone can practice their religion peacefully. What other justification can be used to try to ban this word?
There are two more; firstly it is culturally unacceptable among the Malays in peninsular Malaysia to hear the name Allah on non-Muslim lips. Oh yes, this is a great argument.
It reminds me of similar arguments used in the past. For example, “it is culturally unacceptable to allow negro children to go to the same schools as white children”. Look, just because some people are bigoted does not mean we have to pander to them.
Secondly, there is also the argument that if Muslims see Allah being used by non-Muslims they will get awfully confused and in their simple-mindedness, they will become Christians. People who make this argument can’t have very high regard for Malay intelligence. Rather insulting, I think.
At the end of the day there is no scriptural or legal reason to ban the use of Allah by non-Muslims, and if the powers that be have an iota of principle in their collective bones, they would stand on principle and not cater to the small minded and ignorant.
Instead they try to be pragmatic, leading to ludicrous statements like “it’s all right to use Allah in Sabah and Sarawak but not in the peninsula”.
The Muslim community, particularly the leadership, must ask itself: Is the way Islam is taught in this country so weak that Muslims can get easily confused by just one word?
I do not believe there is any evidence of large scale conversions by Muslims to Christianity. It is illegal for Christians to try to convert Muslims anyway.
However, if this sort of unintelligent and vicious behaviour goes on, I can’t imagine a greater disservice to Islam.
The Catholic church must not back down on this matter. It is in the right and if it gives in now, it will set the precedence that a bunch of thugs with firebombs can dictate the type of country we live in.
For the good of the country as a whole, not just any specific religious or ethnic group, we must never allow the mob to rule.
Dr. Azmi Sharom is an Associate Professor at the University of Malaya. This article was originally published in The Star on 21 October 2010 and is republished with permission from the author.