Responding to “Allah” differently

By Ding Jo-Ann (The Nut Graph) PREDICTABLE. This best sums up the reactions by some Muslim groups and the government to the High Court’s 31 Dec 2009 decision to lift the ban on the use of “Allah” by Catholic paper Herald.

Malaysians were probably able to anticipate the newspaper headlines and ensuing comments, given the usual rhetoric on race and religion in this country. After all, we have all heard the same tune before.

Same old song

“This is an insult to Islam,” said several Muslim groups during a protest in George Town, Penang.

“This can be used to confuse Muslims,” said Defence Minister and Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

“Muslims are the majority in Malaysia … The right to practise other religions peacefully means they are to be practised without eroding the peace and harmony of the official religion, Islam. This is the special position of Islam,” said Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar, president of the Malaysian Muslim Lawyers Association in a Berita Harian column.

“The [Herald‘s] actions [in using the word ‘Allah’] is akin to stirring up a hornet’s nest,” said Datuk Dr Ma’amor Osman, secretary-general of Persatuan Pengguna Islam Malaysia.

Amid all the tangential hoopla, one would hope that the government would respond responsibly and intelligently instead of playing along with the scare-mongering religious rhetoric. Instead, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his cabinet have chosen to appeal for “calm” and to let “the government deal with the matter” while it “expedites” its appeal. Najib has also been quoted as saying he will seek an audience with the Yang-di-Pertuan Agong to brief him on this issue.

And of course, no discussion on race and religion would be complete without the constant reminder that this issue is sensitive, sensitive, sensitive and extremely sensitive.

An alternative scenario

How could the government and the traditional Malay-language media have responded to this issue differently? How would it have sounded if they were truly sincere about building national unity à la 1Malaysia?

Read more at: