Allah row easy to solve if we follow His bidding, not Umno’s

The ongoing row over whether non-Muslims can use the word Allah to describe God has flushed out many systemic weaknesses, and also highlighted how unprincipled some of our political and religious leaders have become.

By Wong Choon Mei (Harakah)

Just to stay on the winning side, many seem to think nothing of abandoning basic truth and simple facts. So much so, it is no longer religious principle but vested interest that is now the core tussle behind the row, and that whoever speaks the loudest – regardless of whether the verbiage is backed by the Quran or not – will emerge victorious.

Against such moral deterioration, what are the chances of an inter-faith dialogue finding a way forward that is satisfactory to all quarters? Against such deliberate cultivation of prejudice, can the voices of every participating faith be heard equally, or will they be drowned out selectively?

The answer depends on whose bidding Malaysians – be they Muslims or non-Muslims – follow.

Deliberate lies

Take the much-hyped Muzakarah Pakar or Experts Forum organized by the government-controlled Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia or Ikim, which was attended by some of the nation’s top religious leaders a few days ago.

When the marathon eight-hour forum ended, former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, the Ikim president, was not above bending the ‘findings’ of a seven-member expert panel that included luminaries such as PAS president Hadi Awang, PKR religious head Dr Mohd Nor Manuty and former Perlis Mufti Dr Asri Zainal Abidin.

According to Umno-controlled media, Abdullah said participants had unanimously ‘surmised that the translation of Allah as God was factually wrong because it contradicted the concept of God as espoused by Islam in Malaysia’. Broken down, the doublespeak means it is wrong for non-Muslims to use the word Allah.

But in an immediate response, Hadi denied that the panel ever reached such a common stand and that the news report was wrong.

The PAS leader stressed that there were no such conclusions taken nor resolutions adopted at the discussion entitled ‘Translation of God as Allah: Identifying the Root of the Problem and Its Solution’. He was backed by Dr Manuty and Dr Asri, who also issued statements to clarify what had actually transpired.

They said, on the contrary, there was general agreement by the forum panelists that non-Muslims could use Allah provided that guidelines were issued to prevent its misuse. All three men also reiterated that the Quran allowed it, and that guidelines were the way out in preserving dignity and preventing sensitivities from being rubbed in our multiracial society.

In particular, Asri blasted Abdullah’s comments that the forum focused on whether Allah was an accurate translation for God. This was again untrue, the ex-Perlis mufti said. In fact, what dominated discussion was whether non-Muslims could use the word Allah and not whether the translation of God as Allah was accurate, he added.

Why? To further Umno’s cause?

Why then did Abdullah misinform the public?

To say he was being ‘sleepy as usual’ would be too facile and disrespectful of his decades as a top public servant. To say he did it deliberately to further the cause of his Umno party – which has been accused of instigating and prolonging the row to rally Malay support – would also be unfair to his record of having been the most democratic of Malaysia’s six prime ministers so far. 

Those close to him say he was misquoted, which is not impossible. They say he is unhappy about the incident. But if so, why not issue a clarification. Otherwise, the perception will stick that Abdullah had manipulated information in order to give a false impression of unanimous agreement by experts that it is wrong for non-Muslims to use Allah.

And whether the ex-PM did this on his own volition for the sake of Umno, or was asked to do so by the party’s top leaders would certainly be the next ‘hot’ questions to follow.

The other four panelists who attended the Ikim forum were religious adviser to the Prime Minister Dr Abdullah Md Zain, associate professor at International Islamic University Dr Kamar Oniah Kamaruzzaman, Ikim director of economic and social studies Dr Mohd Sani Badron and Ikim fellow for Syariah Law and Politics Md Asham Ahmad.

Whose bidding should we follow?

Despite organizing and participating in the dialogue, Ikim’s own stand is still ambiguous. It believes that non-Muslims are misusing the word Allah. But it has not clarified whether the word can be used by non-Muslims. These are two different arguments – each loaded and packing a huge wallop of its own. Still, by keeping silent, the implication that follows is it does not believe that non-Muslims can.

Which is fine and fair enough as we cannot all be expected to have the same viewpoints. Malaysians – whether Muslims or not – should be matured enough to accept and understand divergent stands, but we cannot and must not tolerate dishonesty, which is what deliberate misinformation boils down to.

Especially in a matter where the greatest sincerity and the highest nobility of spirit should be our spontaneous and ultimate guiding factors. After all, God – by whichever name – is watching us all. And we should all be doing His bidding and not that of His adversaries – whether perceived or real.

If we all followed His teachings, then the Allah row would not be difficult to resolve, contrary to what Umno and its media would have us – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – believe.

The grace of God is mightier than all of us, and only the unbelievers and the irredeemably corrupt would dare to challenge Him. 

(Wong Choon Mei is a Consultant Editor for Harakah)