“Allah” row; opportunity to re-brand


Is going to the courts over the “Allah” débâcle the best solution? In reality, winning or losing over the rights to use the word “Allah” in the Malay-language Bible will not be able to stop this political football from bouncing around by UMNO. If UMNO loses it’s appeal in court, it has a uniting factor for Muslims to stand behind UMNO on the matter. If they win, it is a confidence booster to unite behind UMNO.

Kuo Yong Kooi 

Malaysian minorities are being used as a political football.
There is a clear pattern here that the Malaysian minorities are being used as a political football by the authorities for many years now. There are countless examples of this type of behaviour from the powers that be to continue on with this political football game to gain political mileage to stay in power.  

The “Allah” row, the Child Conversion Bill, accusations of the Christian group trying to proselytise to the Muslims, vernacular school, two churches being fire-bombed in January 2010, call for Malay Bible burning festival by Perkasa in January 2013, cow head demonstration against Hindu temple in August 2009, Lina Joy apostasy issue and the latest July 2013, two Malay right wing NGOs call for the closure of the Malaysian Vatican office for openly supporting the Malaysian Catholic Church’s stand on the “Allah” row just to name a few major ones.

Penang Chief Minister and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng started the noise by making a call in his 2012 Christmas message for the Malay-language Bible, to be freely available. That statement was used as a political mileage highly scored by UMNO against PAS. 

The perception that Pakatan is being run by DAP is real in the eyes of the Malay heartland voters. This issue is a point scorer for UMNO against PAS and Pakatan. UMNO will play it to the hilt over and over again in future elections.

Another point to consider on the recent Conversion Bill issue was that most Malay members of parliament from the Pakatan Pact did not come out to make a bold stand against the Child Conversion Bill. Anwar Ibrahim did relate the matter back to the days of Muhammad on the similar incidence but stated that he needed further consultation with the Pakatan Pact on this issue. Unlike the “Allah” débâcle, Tuan Guru Nik Aziz came out openly to say that Christians can use the word “Allah” in the Malay-language Bible. 

The Malay opposition members of the Pakatan pact are caught in this conundrum when the religion card was played on them. They do not want to be seen as not Islamic enough. Unless the Pakatan pact redraws the strategy of “PAS ganti UMNO”, it will be hard for them to outwit UMNO on matters Islam against other religions. 

Pas Dewan Ulama chief Datuk Harun Taib in a recent July 13th, 2013 press statement reaffirmed his position on the Allah word is exactly the type of response the UMNO master minds wanted. It has a powerful divisive effect within the PAS rank and file and within the Pakatan Pact. This can shatter the people’s faith on the Pakatan Pact. This “sandiwara” has already started to replay again leading up the the Kuala Besut by-election.

Why not start a political football team or openly back one instead?

The interesting part is that there is a new political reality emerged in the light of the recent GE-13 results. The current UMNO administration is now and will increasingly rely on the Christians majority East Malaysians to sustain a strong position in Putrajaya.

The question to ask is what are the best strategies that we can deploy to stop the UMNO administration from perpetuating this reckless and irresponsible path of dividing Malaysians?

Is going to the courts over the “Allah” débâcle the best solution? In reality, winning or losing over the rights to use the word “Allah” in the Malay-language Bible will not be able to stop this political football from bouncing around by UMNO. If UMNO loses it’s appeal in court, it has a uniting factor for Muslims to stand behind UMNO on the matter. If they win, it is a confidence booster to unite behind UMNO.

The only way to stop the political football from bouncing around is to form a political football team or openly back one. By doing that, we can start directing the football to the direction we want to kick.

I have always worked against the idea of mixing religions and politics. The Church has demonstrated tremendous human rights abuses in the past centuries. I can forgive and forget if a religious based political party will always be a minority for the purpose of balance of power. If that balance of power is directed appropriately, it is effective to stop all the nonsense spewed on us by UMNO and its mouthpiece Utusan.

I believe that there is a potential for the Malaysian Christians to be a formal political force in East Malaysia. I guess the best way to start is to brainstorm on re-packaging the Christian brand that is prevalent in Malaysia at the moment. 

The heart of all religions is non materialistic; re-brand into Liberation Theology?

The throw away materialistic society that we are living at the moment is the anti-thesis of all religions. All the world great religions want us to live a simplistic lifestyle so that we can embark on a spiritual path of contemplation/prayers/meditation. All devout religious followers are also advised to help the poor and disenfranchised.

Liberation theology began in Latin America in 1950s to the 60s within the Catholic Church. It interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in relation to a liberation of unjust economic, political, or social conditions in Latin America. 

Liberation theology had also influenced the people’s power movement of the Philippine during the era of the Marcos dictatorship. The common question asked by Liberation Theologians was that if Jesus is alive today he would fight for the plight of the poor and the disenfranchised. I actually had a Filipino workmate in mid eighties who asked me this question. If Jesus is alive in Philippine today would he be working for Emalda Marcos or for the poor? That question changes my idea of what Christianity is.

The Latin America today was shaped to some extend by the activisms of the liberation theologians. Probably the financially rich Church congregations in West Malaysia should make a field trip to Latin America or the Philippines and see how they work and try to apply that to East Malaysia situation.

If the liberation theology idea is not palatable, try making a field trip to America and see how the Church lobby group works in the Republicans and Democratic parties.

If hypothetically the Malaysian Christian lobby managed to get fifteen to twenty Christians MPs from East Malaysia who are not corruptible by UMNO money politics, all those racial and religious issues that we have faced for the last few years including the ranting from Utusan might just go away overnight.

Some might argue that setting up a new political party may complicate the multi-cornered fights situation that were rampant in East Malaysia as shown in the last General Election. 

The opposition Pakatan pact has yet to find a remedy to that conundrum and that was one of the main reasons why BN won big in East Malaysia on the last 13th General Election. 

The multi ethnic and multi religious winning formula against BN is so complex that any extension of a new political party or a political force with a new theme could either help or hinder the situation, it remains to be seen. Using the unifying “Christian sister/brotherhoods” theme might be just what it is needed to put a common threat across the multi-cornered fights situation in East Malaysia. We don’t know unless we try it out.

I am not from East Malaysia so it is hard for me to assess and make suggestions on how easy it is to gather the energies of the East Malaysians together through a Christian bloc rather than the current personal leaderships, ethnic, regional and sub indigenous division bloc. That diverse divisions were shown to be disastrous for the opposition forces in the past. It’s about time all the opposition forces sit down and rehash an agreeable and winning formula to that conundrum.

The UMNO right wing group endless cycle of the “sandiwara” on Christians versus Muslim rivalry might well lead to a natural emergence of a united front of an East Malaysian Christian bloc to counter this situation.

Resources most likely can come from the financially rich West Malaysian Church congregations. the characteristics of the West Malaysian Christian congregations are different from the East Malaysians. The West are more modern, trendy, well-educated, well connected group whereas the East are more traditional indigenous based. The Liberation Theology type of approach might be suitable for East Malaysia. The question posed is “is there a political will there”? If there is, anything is possible in the world of politics.

To stay apolitical is not a good option

If the Malaysian Christian groups decide to continue to remain apolitical, going to court over the Allah issue will only settle that particular matter. There will be more battles to come as we have previously seen the clear patterns of endless attacks from the reckless UMNO party machinery. 

Another point is that the Christians should seek out partnerships from a bigger group like The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism,Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) to defend this together if they want to remain apolitical. Defending the “Allah” issue alone falls prey to the master plan of divide and rule from the authorities. Unfortunately the word “Allah” does not affect the other religious groups. 

I also have difficulty grappling the idea of spiritual growth has to be based on a particular word use. I was often told by my Christians friends that “god” is hard to describe, god is all powerful, god is omnipresent, god is everything. If that is the premise of what you believe then why argue over a word that we all agreed that it is hard to describe with words?

The same point of argument can be found in Buddhism. Buddhists had always said that it is very hard to describe “Nibbana”. If you have achieved enlightenment, there are no words that can describe that experience. Buddhist that are not enlightened are encouraged to have faith in practising a “path” that would lead to enlightenment laid by the Buddha who is enlightened. 

This logic would tell us that once you have understood and experienced enlightenment, you can call it whatever you want. People would find it hard to understand when you try to describe it with words.

So to extend that logic to the argument over the use of the word “Allah”, it can be any other form of expression if you want other people to understand you without using the word Allah. You can just look up to the sky or point your index figure up there, if people understood what you meant, that’s all it needed. Assessing the intuitive “right” brain is the key in deeper understanding of any religions. The logical thinking “left brain” are of little use when it comes to meditation, contemplation and connectedness with god.

Putting the “constitutional right” argument aside, the oxymoron here is we are going to the courts to argue over a use of a word that is hard to describe in words. 

The Buddha described a “path” where followers can practice to get an understanding of what enlightenment is. The Christians and Muslims also have their “paths”. I would agree with our  Malaysian Christian friends that the courts are needed to mitigate a dispute when followers are not allowed to follow a particular path, but a word is not a path. As a Buddhist, I’ve always been taught that the path and the practice is more important than words. Words are ninety five percent rubbish when it comes to meditation in Buddhism.

The text and the words used are just guidelines for followers to practice a path. That was why you have the “old” and the “new” testament to guide practitioners at different times in history. 

Unfortunately humans had always misinterpreted whatever texts that were written in history. This is a fundamental flaw of the mind that human beings carry. It interpret and redefine what ever they have read according to their own prism/biases/world views that had been imposed/impregnated in their mind through cultural conditioning and upbringing. That is why all religions are not monolithic, this topic is best left for another article.

If you think you have the right practising path, we can always use a different word to describe it. There is really no need for any further arguments on the use of a particular word to practice the religion.

If we agree on that, it is best to drop the case because the basic flaws of our mind will lead to more cumulative conflicts over many other matters in the future and that can lead to a disastrous outcome.

As a Buddhist I was always taught to take all mishap or misfortune as an opportunity to learn and move on positively. As for this case, winning the “Allah” word use case in court or redefining the word “Allah” in the Malay-language bible will not stop your religious community from be used as a political football.

Another real risk that we may face if the religious minorities decide to stay apolitical is that there are always a possibility of defections in the Malaysian political scene. If hypothetically in a situation where the opposition wins only a small majority in a future election, we might see a scenario where the conservative “Ulama” factions of Pas made a move to defect over to the UMNO camp and upset the opposition’s march to Putrajaya.

If you really think hard for the long term benefits of all ethnic and religious minorities, forming a formidable political force by taking the opportunity of the current political climate can be a positive way out of the predicament. If not can someone think of a better way?