Trying to abide by the Third Commandment

al kitab

Why is “Allah” suddenly an issue?

by Terence Fernandez,

I HAVE refrained from commenting on the “Allah” debacle all this while. Which is why this is my first column for 2014. It is hard to write about anything else when this issue has been staring us in the face for the past few months.

However one looks at it, the fact that I am a practising Catholic will always muddy the message that I will be trying to send, and hence I will never be able to write from a neutral platform due to my faith and my personal understanding of the use of Kalimah Allah. But here I go: To state my experience, it was never a problem growing up in Kuala Krai, Kelantan. St Joseph’s Chapel, along Jalan Geale (pronounced Gale) lies in the middle of a Malay kampung.

Mass was always in English but at times we would sing hymns in Bahasa Malaysia, you know, as the church was also trying to do its patriotic duty to “memartabatkan Bahasa Malaysia.”

As the hymnals and Bibles were in Bahasa Indonesia, the reference to God would be “Allah” or “Allah Bapa” (God our Father).

The Malay neighbours would be curious but in the 50 years since the church was around, they never complained.

However, two years ago some politicians “exposed” the existence of the church in vernacular dailies and there was a storm of protest – not by the locals but by a handful of irresponsible individuals who wanted to stoke religious flames for political mileage.

St Joseph still stands today, with the acknowledgment and tacit protection of the State Government.

The local neighbourhood is not any the worse for it. In fact those who have been there much longer will attest to sending their children to the kindergarten that operated at the ground floor. Run by Mrs Helen Lian, the pre-schoolers who populated it were largely Malays.

The kids were barred from climbing the stairs to the top floor where the altar and chapel were located.

Today, when I discuss the Allah custody battle with friends from there, the question posed is “where has the innocence gone”?

There were days when we would play football with the local Muslim youths who pray at a mosque 200m away. They were also welcomed to enjoy the harvest of the rambutan and pomelo trees in the church compound, without the fear of losing themselves as Muslims by consuming “rambutan Kristian.”

So, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, why is “Allah” suddenly an issue?

Could it be reports of Muslims who secretly embraced Christianity? The regulated churches such as the Catholic, Anglican and Methodist denominations have very strict protocols on conversions.

For Catholics for instance, it is a year-long painstaking exercise that includes weekly night classes where the facilitator, usually a nun, play devil’s advocate and throws a thousand and one reasons at you as to why one should NOT convert.

Contrary to what some may think, it is not as easy as reciting a few words and drinking some magic water!

But at the same time, there have been the emergence of so-called radical Christian groups, some of which operate under the guise of Sdn Bhds which allegedly do not discriminate when it comes to recruiting followers. It is understood that the leadership of the Catholic Church here has warned that it will publicly disassociate itself from some of these groups if they continue with open proselytisation.

So you see the problem? It is a clash of civilisations again. Both Islam and Christianity promote “dakwah” or evangelisation.

As far as the regulated Churches here are concerned, the official position is to abide by the Federal Constitution and steer clear of Muslims in the former’s evangelistic activities.

Another problem is that with economic progress, there is more confusion and uncertainty over the position of Islam.

You have “Malays” going to Church and praying in Bahasa Malaysia and calling their God “Allah.”

On further inspection, we realise they are not Malay Muslims but Indonesian migrants who are contributing to this nation’s construction industry, as well as Christian Bumiputras from East Malaysia and Orang Asal who are attached to the police, army and schools.

Again you see why some would feel insecure about losing the position of Islam as the official religion? It is common knowledge that to ensure the socio-economic status quo, Malaysian-style Islam must thrive. Hence the inability to be “murtad” or the hefty consequences that come with being an apostate or the requirement for non-Muslims to convert to Islam if they wish to marry a Muslim; and now the ban on non-Muslims from using certain words associated with Islam.