The Kalimah Allah Issue – The Peninsular Malaysian Perspective

i967.photobucket.com_albums_ae159_Malaysia-Today_Mug shots_ShadSaleemFaruqi_zpsf2c16904

Hopefully all state laws under Article 11(4) will be interpreted narrowly to relate only to proselytization. 

Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Hj Shad Saleem Faruqi


Since 1957, and especially after 1963, the Malaysian tradition of multi-culturalism and tolerance had made Malaysia an exemplar for other plural societies. However, lately a number of painful, seemingly intractable issues have divided us deeply. Among them is the Kalimah Allah issue.

I wish to present to you the highlights of the debate as it is occurring in Peninsular Malaysia with the hope that we can help to bridge the wide schism that exists in the peninsula on this issue. My own view is that the issue is just as political as it is religious. It has very little theological or etymological basis. It is a manufactured storm in a tea cup. I fervently pray that with Allah SWT’s help we can find some middle path to resolve the issue in a spirit of compassion, moderation and accommodation.


Between Islam and Christianity there are many fundamental theological differences. But at the same time there is much in common that can be emphasized. In many respects the Holy Qur’an is a bridge between many shores.

Tawhid: The Muslim belief in one and only one God necessitates acceptance that Allah is for everyone and not just for Muslims. The idea of “my God” and “your God” is in denial of Islam’s basic tenet of the oneness of Allah SWT.

Islam has great affinity with Judaism and Christianity. It is said in Surah 29:46: “And say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him”.

Common fountain: In the Holy Qur’an Surah 42:13 it is implied that the divinely-revealed religions all stemmed from the same source. “He has ordained for you the same religion which He ordained for Nooh [Noah] … and which He ordained for Ibrahim [Abraham], Musa [Moses] and Esa [Jesus] saying you should establish religion and make no divisions in it”. “Every nation has its messenger”: Surah 10:47. “Nothing has been said to you save what was said to the messengers before you”: Surah 41:43.

Respect for all prophets: Plurality of prophets and multiplicity of revelations reflect a divine will. Islam is most respectful of previous monotheistic religions and holds their Prophets in great veneration (42:13, 2:136). The Prophets of all revealed religions are brothers and there is no difference between them with regard to the message. Muslims are obliged to believe in them all. In Surah 2:136 it is stated: “We believe in Allah and that which has been sent down to us and that which has been sent down to Ibrahim [Abraham], Ismail [Ishmael], Ishaq [Isaac], Yaqoob [Jacob], and to Al-Asbaat [the offspring of the twelve sons of Yaqoob], and that which has been given to Musa [Moses] and Esa [Jesus], and that which has been given to the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims in submission to Him”.

According to the renowned Malaysia-based Afghani scholar, Hashim Kamali, “Islam sees itself as the third of the Abrahamic religions”. “The Hebrew prophets and Christ are deeply respected by Muslims. The Virgin Mary is given the most exalted spiritual position in the Qur’an: a chapter of the Qur’an is named after her, and she is the only woman mentioned by name. The tombs of the Hebrew prophets, who are also Islamic prophets, are revered by Muslims to this day”.

Multiplicity of faiths & freedom of conscience: In innumerable passages the Holy Qur’an recognises religious pluralism: 2:113 & 256, 5:2, 10:99. In Surah 2:256 it is stated: “There is no compulsion in religion.” In Surah 109:6 there is the exquisite passage: “Unto you your religion, unto me mine”. In Surah 11:118 it is declared: “If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one people: but they will not cease to dispute”. In Surah 10:99 Allah gave this admonition: “Had your Lord willed, those on Earth would have believed, all of them together. Will you then compel people against their will to believe?” In Surah 18:29 it is commanded “Let him who will, believe; and let him who will, disbelieve”.

Special status for Jews and Christians: All Christian and Jews are given the special status of ahle-kitab (believers in a book) and inter-marriage with their women is permissible without the need for the woman’s conversion to Islam. However, on the issue of conversion of ahle-kitab women, a restrictive interpretation has taken hold in some societies including Malaysia.

Duty of civility towards non Muslims: Cooperation with and courtesy towards other religions, including the polytheistic religions, is recommended (5:5, 6:108). Abu Dawud reports that Prophet Muhammad once warned his people: “Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.

In the book Civilisation of Faith by Mustafa as-Sibaa’ie it is stated that the Holy Qur’an obliges the Muslim to believe in all the Prophets and Messengers of Allah, to speak of all of them with respect, not to mistreat their followers, to deal with them all in a good and gentle manner, speaking kindly to them, being a good neighbour to them and accepting their hospitality.

Differences of religion should not make people fight one another or commit aggression, rather they should cooperate in doing good and warding off evil: Holy Qur’an 5:2, 5:5. Allah alone is the One who will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection: Holy Qur’an 2:113. “And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best”: Qur’an 29: 46. “And insult not those who invoke other than Allah, lest they should insult Allah wrongfully without knowledge”: Qur’an 6: 108.

Respect for places of worship: All places of worship are sacred and must be defended. In Surah 22:40 the Holy Qur’an speaks beautifully of monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques “as places in which the God is commemorated in abundant measure”.

In Islamic history the clergy in the churches were given full authority over their flocks with regard to all religious and church matters. Mosques were often built next to churches. When the Muslims conquered Egypt they gave the Coptic churches back to the Copts and restored their rights.

In the early history of Islam, Muslims and Christians often prayed simultaneously in many churches e.g. at the Cathedral of Saint John in Damascus. Likewise, Prophet Muhammad allowed the Christians of Najran to pray in Muslim mosques.

Rights of minorities: When Prophet Muhammad migrated to Madinah, there was a large number of Jews in the city. One of the first affairs of state that he dealt with was to establish a treaty with them, according to which their beliefs were to be respected and the state was obliged to ward off harm from them.

Fanaticism is un-Islamic: Those whose hearts are filled with hate and whose lips drip the blood of vengeance must remind themselves of the caution administered by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in a hadith: “One who promotes fanaticism (asabiyyah) is not one of us, nor is one who fights for asabiyyah, nor the one who dies for asabiyyah”.


Although the word Allah has obvious reverence for Muslims, no one can deny that Allah is also a term of language. The Peninsular Malaysian Muslim’s claim of exclusivity to it has no existentialist basis. The claim that the word Allah is exclusive to Islam and for this reason it’s usage by others must be banned is based purely on local laws and on local perceptions. It has no theological, etymological or global basis.

A Muslim scholar, Mohamed Ajmal, has quoted the Muslim argument that “Allah is a proper name and hence cannot be used by Christians since their concept of God is diametrically opposed to that of Islam”. [1] With all due respect, the argument that Allah is a proper name and “hence cannot be used by Christians” lacks logical deduction. The learned author himself concedes that ‘Allah’ has, in fact, been used by Christians in Arabia for centuries. He also notes that Malaysia is the only Muslim country in the world to restrain the use of the word Allah.

Arabia: The term Allah precedes Christianity and Islam and is widely employed by Arabs of all faiths. For centuries, in the whole of Arabia, followers of all semitic religions have used the word Allah to refer to God as they see Him. Arab-speaking Christians use Allah al-ab (God the father), Allah al-ibn (God the son), Allah al-quddus or Allah al-ruhul (God the Holy Spirit).

Arab Jews use the term Allah and so did the pagans![2]

Many Arabic names are derived from the word Allah. For example Prophet Muhammad’s father was called Abdullah.

Sikhism and Hinduism: The Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs uses the term ‘Allah’ more than thirty-five times![3] Many Hindu hymns use the words ‘Ishwar’ and ‘Allah’ as names of God. “The word Allah exists even in the Vedas”.[4] Some Muslim writers come to terms with Sikh usage of the term Allah by asserting that “Muslim objection to usage (of Allah) is to Christians and not the Sikhs since Sikhism has its ties to Islam and hence have naturally common terms and concepts with it”.[5] With all due respect this distinction between two religions is quite idiosyncratic and discriminatory. Article 8 of the Constitution will not allow such differentiation. Also, to imply that Christianity has no ties with Islam is so remarkable that it requires no further comment.

Indonesia and Sabah & Sarawak: Christians in Indonesia have for about four centuries invoked the term Allah to refer to God[6].In the Malaysian regions of Sabah and Sarawak, Bibles in Bahasa Indonesia are freely available. Bibles in Bahasa Indonesia use Allah to refer to God as the Christians see Him. Muslim leaders in the Peninsula must acknowledge their contributory role in forcing Malay-speaking Christians in Sabah and Sarawak to import Bibles from Indonesia which use the word Allah. At one time, the government banned translations of the Bible into Malay. This forced Christians in the former Borneo States to rely on Indonesian renditions.

In general, transcendence of common symbols and vocabulary between races and religions should be commended, not condemned. Regrettably, in Peninsular Malaysia the suspicion that the word ‘Allah’ is being employed by Christian evangelists for the purpose of proselytisation tends to colour the issue.

Mohamad Ajmal refutes the argument that because Christians in Sabah and Sarawak have historically used ‘Allah’ to refer to God, therefore the usage should be permitted everywhere. According to him the usage of the word Allah amongst Sabah and Sarawak Christians came about due to the colonial designs to convert Malays to Christianity.[7]According to him that resolve and unwavering commitment is still alive and the Allah isssue is merely an adroit attempt to evangelise to Malays.


Though the debate has obvious religious and political connotations, it has a constitutional dimension that is necessary to bear in mind.

Constitutional right to religion: Freedom of religion in Article 11(1) covers three dimensions: to profess, to practise and, subject to Article 11(4) to propogate one’s religion. Article 11(1) is broad enough to permit any one to invoke whatever language or sentiment he wishes to invoke in order to open his heart and soul to God.

However, freedom of religion, like all other freedoms, is subject to some limitations. These are:

    • The practice of all religions is subordinated to peace and harmony: Article 3(1)
    • Propagation of any religion amongst Muslims may be regulated by State law: Article 11(4).
    • The right to religion is subject to public order, public health and morality: Article 11(5).
    • The restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly and association in Articles 10(2), (3) and (4) are relevant because religious freedom is a bundle of many attributes.
    • The right to religion is subject to public order, public health and morality: Article 11(5).[8]
  • The restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly and association in Articles 10(2), (3) and (4) are relevant because religious freedom is a bundle of many attributes.

Constitutional right to free speech: There is also the constitutional dimension of free speech in Article 10(1)(a) which permits free speech except on eight grounds (like security and public order) specified in Article 10(2)(a).

The Selangor Non-Islamic Religious (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 is constitutionally objectionable because it does not link the use of 35 banned words to threats to security and public order. It makes no distinction between private or public use of the scheduled words. It imposes a blanket ban on any use whatsoever, irrespective of the circumstances and the likely consequences.

On the Muslim side a legitimate complaint is that the words ‘Allah’ and ‘Muhammad’ are used by some non-Muslims on restaurant walls and this creates the wrong impression that the eatery is Muslim-run and serves halal food. This is a genuine complaint and if true it should be the subject of investigation for misrepresentation and cheating under the Trade Description Act.

Schedule 9, List 2, Para 1: The Constitution specifically asserts that Syariah Courts have jurisdiction only over persons professing the religion of Islam. It is arguable therefore that Syariah authorities likewise have jurisdiction only over Muslims. It is my submission that to the extent that state laws under Article 11(4) are addressed to non-Muslims, these laws are civil laws and are enforceable only by civil authorities in civil courts.

Article 11(4) and proselytization: I believe that the unspoken factor behind the Kalimah Allah dispute is the fear in some Muslim minds that Christian evangelical groups in West Malaysia are using the word Allah to circumvent the restriction in Article 11(4) on preaching to Muslims. It must be remembered that Article 11(4) is a pre-Merdeka compromise between the Muslims and the non-Muslims and its provision should not be taken lightly. The suspicion that this whole dispute is an indirect attempt to lift the constitutional restriction on proselytising and converting Muslims must be addressed. The argument that the Church will be using the word Allah only privately is credible but we know that the Herald is available on the net and therefore the private publication is indeed in the public domain.

Article 11(5) and public order: Freedom of religion is not absolute. Article 11(5) subordinates religion to public order, public health or morality. A relevant law on public order is section 298 of the Penal Code which punishes the offence of wounding religious feelings.

Section 298 Penal Code: In the theology of Islam, Allah cannot be depicted in any human form. Allah cannot be an aspect of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Allah does not beget and cannot be begotten (Surah 112:3). There is a clear distinction between God Almighty and His many noble Prophets. That being so, if it were to be preached publicly that Christ was the son of Allah, or that Christ was God and that God (Allah) was born of Mother Mary or that God (Allah) was born in the manger, or that He was crucified and resurrected, this will be blasphemous in Islam and will hurt or offend many Muslims. The matter would then come under section 298 of the Penal Code (wounding religious feelings). There will be implications for public order. Many Muslims are asking why their Christian bretheren wish to go down this road.

The Court of Appeal’s Herald decision: The Court of Appeal decision contains sweeping statements that may adversely affect Sikhs, Christians of Sabah and Sarawak and other parties that had no opportunity to submit their case before the court.

Hopefully the Federal Court will confine the Herald decision to the facts of the case and to the parties involved. Hopefully all state laws under Article 11(4) will be interpreted narrowly to relate only to proselytization.

There should be close examination of the Court of Appeal’s attempt to subordinate Article 11 (freedom of religion) to Article 3 (Islam). This appears contrary to Article 3(4) which states clearly that “Nothing in this Article derogates from any other provision of this Constitution”.

Further, the Court of Appeal’s Herald decision, in line with previous decisions like Meor Atiqulrahman and Halimatussaadiah, imply that freedom of religion is restricted only to essential and integral parts of a faith. Surely this is contentious. Whatever is permitted by the fundamental right to religion, even if not mandated, should be part of our constitutional guarantee.


In our federal system, some aspects of Islam are assigned to State jurisdiction and State Assemblies are authorised to pass laws on these matters.

Article 11(4): This provision permits State legislatures to restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine among Muslims. Nine State legislatures, among them Selangor, have passed such laws. The Selangor Non-Islamic Religious (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 goes so far as to ban non-Muslims from using 35 or so scheduled Arabic/Malay words. The Selangor Non-Islamic Religious (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 is an illustrative legislation.

State Enactments: Every law is valid till nullified by the courts. The 25-year old Selangor Enactment, though constitutionally objectionable is still law. However, there is still the issue whether the federal police or the Selangor syariah authority has the power to enforce the law’s provisions.

Edict of State Rulers: Many State Rulers, acting on advice, have relied on State Enactments to issue edicts against use of the word Allah by non-Muslims. The royal pronouncements are based solidly on existing State Enactments and carry all the weight of royal office plus legislative legitimacy.

However, as a comment it must be stated that despite the royal commands, questions of constitutionality of the legislation cannot be prevented from reaching the Federal Court. Another issue is that the royal command does not specify who should do the raids and the arrests. Nor is the Sultan’s edict meant to disregard the Federal Constitution’s prohibition in Schedule 9 List II Para 1 against applying the syariah to non-Muslims.

10-point federal solution not binding on the States: There exists a painstakingly drafted and commendable 10-Point Solution of March 2011 by the federal government. However, JAIS is disregarding it because in our federal system, Islam is a state matter and Tuanku Sultan is the head of the religion of Islam. There is also the Court of Appeal decision denying Christians the use of the word Allah.

In addition to the federal-state vertical jurisdictional conflict, one must note that within the State of Selangor itself there are lateral disagreements between the elected government and the independent-minded syariah authority with an agenda of its own.

The JAIS Raid: I am appalled at the profane action by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (JAIS) of entering the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia and seizing 331 copies of the Bible in the Malay and Iban languages. Despite Father Lawrence Andrew’s undiplomatic and ill-conceived public declaration that the Church will persist in its usage of the term Allah (in effect defying the Court of Appeal decision on the Kalimah Allah issue), this raid by JAIS was most unfortunate and disrespectful. It defiled a place of worship. It violated many exquisite passages in the Qur’an that show reverence towards all Revealed Books and all Messengers who preceded Prophet Muhammad. It is noteworthy that the Qur’an respects Jesus Christ and the story of his miraculous conception and birth. Surah Maryam in the Qur’an is one of the most succinct and moving descriptions of the Christmas story.

The JAIS raid was also violative of several provisions of the Federal Constitution.

Article 11(1): Every one has the right to profess and practise one’s religion and subject to Article 11(4) to propagate it. However, it must be noted that Article 11(1) must be read together with Article 3(1) that the practice of religion must not disturb peace and harmony. There is no evidence that the seized consignment of Bibles was in any way an affront to peace and harmony.

Article 11(3): Every religion has the right to manage its own affairs, to acquire and own property and to hold and administer it in accordance with law.

Article 3(1): Islam is the religion of the federation but all other religions may be practised in peace and harmony. The 1988 Selangor Enactment forbids the use of the banned words by non-Muslims even if the use poses no danger to peace and harmony. For example the Selangor State anthem contains the word ‘Allah’. School kids singing the anthem may fall foul of the law. The police emblem has the word ‘Allah’ expressed in Jawi. Perhaps every non-Muslim police officer commits an offence wearing the emblem! The law is an overkill and its absurdities are many.

Article 3(4): Though Article 3(1) declares Islam to be the religion of the federation, nothing in this Article derogates from any other provision of the Constitution. This means that no constitutional right or duty is affected or abridged as a result of the adoption of Islam as the religion of the federation.

Selangor Non-Islamic Religious (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988: JAIS is banking on the 1988 Selangor law to justify its raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia. In fact many other related provisions including the Federal Constitution’s Schedule 9, List II, Paragraph 1 impact on the matter. An Article 11(4) State Enactment imposing a criminal liability on non-Muslims cannot be enforced in the State syariah courts because under Schedule 9, List II, Paragraph 1, syariah courts have no jurisdiction over non-Muslims. This implies that syariah officials, likewise, have no authority over non-Muslims. Take for example a khalwat case involving a Muslim and a non-Muslim. The syariah authorities have no right to arrest or charge the non-Muslim.

Any offence by non-Muslims under a State Enactment legislated under Article 11(4) must be tried by federal courts and by federal authorities. If JAIS had become cognisant of any offence under the Enactment, it should have filed a police report and left the matter to the police and to federal prosecutors. Its act of spearheading the raid with 20 JAIS officers and two policemen, without a warrant and allegedly without proper identification, and taking part in the arrest and interrogation appears to be a violation of the spirit of Schedule 9 List II Paragraph 1 that the ecclesiastical authorities of one faith should not prosecute the followers of another faith.


Looking at the issue through political and conservative Muslim lenses, many issues are raised that need to be acknowledged.

Usage of Allah is not central to Christian theology: To argue that the word Allah is central to the Christian faith and that any restriction on its usage would hinder freedom of conscience of the Christians requires a willing suspension of disbelief. The word Allah never occurs in the King James Version of the Bible.

Usage of Allah by Peninsular Christians is a recent development: Other than in sermons in Malay in Sabah and Sarawak, the word Allah has never been part of Christian discourse. Certainly in West Malaysia the word was not part of Christian vocabulary up to now in English conducted sermons. It is difficult, therefore, to accept the argument that use of Allah is central to Christian theology.

Selective use of Arabic words: The Herald’s new found love for Arabic words is indeed very touching but one cannot fail to note that the import of Arabic words is rather selective. Tan Sri Dzulkifli (formerly VC of USM) has pointed out that in the Malay translation of the Bible, the word Allah is used to refer to the Lord God but Mary, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Michael and other revered figures are not given their Arabic names.

Alternative words in Malay and Aramaic are available: One must also remember that Malaysia is not Arab-speaking and Christian sermons in Malay could just as well use words like Tuhan, Dewa, Dewata and Betara without any diminution of freedom of conscience. The rebuttal by Christians is that Christians needs not one but three words in their prayers – one to refer to God, another to refer to Lord and yet another to refer to Lord-God. So they employ Allah to refer to God; Tuhan to mean Lord; and Allah-Tuhan for Lord-God.

Instead of this strained exercise, Aramaic words for God that Jesus Christ himself used or that are used in the Old Testament could be employed. Among them are Eloi, Eli, Eloah, Elohim, Yahweh or Jehovah.[9]

It is not always right to use our rights: Freedom per se has no value. It is what freedom is for. It is the use to which it is put. It is the sense of responsibility and restraint with which it is exercised. Take the one hundred million Muslims in India for example. Despite their rights in secular India’s Constitution, they refrain from butchering the cow because the cow is regarded as sacred by the majority Hindus. In the British case of Humphries v Connors, 1864, a Protestant lady was marching in a predominantly Catholic area with an orange lily in her buttonhole. For historical reasons that evoked painful memories for the Catholics. There were catcalls and intimidating comments from the onlookers. A police constable plucked the lily away. In an action against the officer for assault, the court held that the officer was within his duty to prevent breaches of the peace. Similar considerations apply in Malaysia.

In matters of religion, cold logic & rationality must not apply exclusively: All in all it can be said that in relation to the Herald case, the general Muslim reaction is too emotional and is based on lack of broad knowledge. The Herald, on the other hand, has lots of facts but no tact. Its arguments rely on cold logic, history and rationality but there is total disregard of local context and of religious sensitivities. It is submitted that in matters of religion, history, logic and reason must not apply exclusively. Emotions must be regarded. Sometimes rights must give way to the need for social harmony. It is not always right to use our rights We need to find a middle path.

Allegation that Muslims will get confused: The conservative Muslim argument is that use of the word Allah by non-Muslims, especially Christians, will confuse the Muslim population. I personally find this argument to be demeaning to all Muslims. It paints the Muslims as an extremely ignorant and gullible lot. It ignores the fact that Islam took deep roots in Malaya hundreds of years ago and became the identifying feature of the Malay persona. The Islamic faith was not shattered during British rule despite vigorous attempts by the missionaries at proselytisation. Why should it be so easily shaken now after 57 years of Muslim rule, 57 years of Islamic education and a vigorous dakwah movement?

The danger of “confusion” amongst Muslim minds is not backed by any evidence. I have not come across any Muslim who has confessed that he himself is confused. It is always someone else. This is all very patronising and condescending. It pictures the advocate for the ban as an intelligent, stable person but looks down on other Muslims as ignorant, unthinking and easily misled.

In any case if our Muslim bretheren are prone to being misled, the struggle should be to improve their knowledge and faith rather than to dictate to others how to speak and communicate their thoughts so that we do not get confused! Telling others how they should address God, so that we don’t get confused, is very authoritarian and intellectually unacceptable.

I personally think that the fear that Muslims will get “confused” on hearing the word Allah in a Christian context is not convincing at all. The real issues are, firstly proselytisation contrary to Article 11(4) and secondly, wounding religious feelings contrary to section 298 of the Penal Code.


1. Allah is rabbul aalameen (God of the whole universe) and not just rabbul muslimin (God for the Muslims). The one and only God belongs to all of us though He is known by many names and worshipped in many different ways. It would be contradictory for a Muslim to talk of ‘my God’ and ‘your God’.

2. On a matter of principle no state and no law should dictate to anyone how to address the object of his devotion or reverence. At the same time, it must be stated that if this exercise leads to public disorder, then self-restraint is called for. It is not always right to use our rights.

3. The claim that the word Allah is exclusive to Islam and for this reason it’s usage by others must be banned is based purely on local laws and on local perceptions. It has no theological, etymological or global basis.

4. State enactments that indulge in blank cheque ban on the use of the word Allah without linking the usage to proselytisation or to threats to public order have serious issues of constitutionality.

5. The tradition of Sabah and Sarawak Christians who have for hundreds of years used the word Allah without any inter-religious problems must be respected. Peninsular Muslims must not try to dictate to Sabah and Sarawak how to live inter-communally. Instead, on this issue, Peninsular Malaysians must learn from Sabah and Sarawak.

6. As Bahasa Melayu is our Bahasa Kebangsaan, its use for all purposes including Christian worship cannot be discouraged.

7. In the long range, encouragement must be given to replace Indonesian translations of the Bible with Malaysian renditions. All restrictions on the printing of Bibles in the Malay language must be lifted.

8. At the same time Muslim apprehensions must be taken note of. I believe that the unspoken factor behind the Kalimah Allah dispute is the fear in some Muslim minds that Christian evangelical groups in West Malaysia are using the word Allah to circumvent the restriction in Article 11(4) on preaching to Muslims. Our Christian brothers in West Malaysia must confront this issue and make some adjustments.

9. Perhaps all State Assemblies should permit the federal Parliament to enact a uniform law under Article 11(4) to regulate the explosive issue of proselytisation of Muslims which in the context of Malaysia has significant public order implications. The power of the federal parliament to legislate for topics in the State List is provided for in Article 76.

10. Another underlying fear is the misuse of the word Allah in ways that Muslims will regard as blasphemous. While conceding a cross-cultural usage of the word ‘Allah’, it must be pointed out that the concept of Allah, as shaped by Islam for 1,435 years is radically different from the concept of God in some denominations of Christianity.

    • Islam is uncompromisingly monotheistic. The Christian doctrine of Trinity, while immensely rich to the Christians, creates an unbridgeable gap between Islam and Christianity.
    • As Allah cannot be part of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the Christian usage of Allah within the concept of Trinity would indeed hurt the feelings of many Muslims.
    • In Islam, Allah cannot be depicted in any human form.
    • The Holy Qur’an declares that Allah does not beget and cannot be begotten (Surah 112:3).
  • In Islam, there is a clear distinction between God Almighty and His many noble Prophets. In Islamic theology, Jesus Christ is a revered prophet and the idea amongst some Christian denominations that “Jesus is God” is antithetical to Islam.

That is why there is so much concern in West Malaysia about the “confusion” that will occur or the offence that will be taken if the word “Allah” is employed in the radically different contexts of Islam and Christianity.

11. Despite the public order implications that inspired Article 11(4), it is submitted that in relation to West Malaysia, there is no need to use the sledgehammer of the Printing Presses and Publications Act to impose blanket bans or prior restraints on the use of the word Allah. A Home Ministry advice on the consequences of violating Articles 11(4) and 11(5) of the Federal Constitution and section 298 of the Penal Code will be sufficient. If this advice is not followed and the word Allah is used improperly and in such a way as to wound religious feelings, then prosecutions can be commenced and the judicial process should be allowed to continue without any intimidation

12. Given the existence of clear conflict, where do we go from here? I believe that the real issue is not the existence of conflict but how it is handled so that society’s social equilibrium is not threatened. A conflict that is well handled enables all parties to articulate peacefully their interests in a pluralistic, socio-political system. An atmosphere of dialogue requires all contestants to listen to the other side and to tolerate the nuances of other people’s thoughts. A democratic environment is engendered.

13. It is time for a national effort to reconcile these differences with the least friction and with the utmost respect for all religious communities. The cost of conflict will be too heavy. Middle paths must be forged and brinkmanship abjured. In many parts of the world, ethnic conflicts are great killers and Samuel Huntington’s prophesy of “civilizational fault lines” must not be allowed to materialise in Malaysia.

14. The Kalimah Allah isssue is not a purely legal issue. Neither judicial decisions nor executive proclamations can make this heart-wrenching problem go away. We need inter-faith dialogue to find comprehensive political and administrative solutions for our tattered fabric of inter-religious relationships. There are many painful issues and piece-meal solutions will not be enough. We must remember the Qur’anic admonition that differences of religion should not make people fight one another or commit aggression, rather they should cooperate in doing good and warding off evil: Holy Qur’an 5:2, 5:5.

15. Impartial, third parties like SUHAKAM or the National Unity Consultative Council must seek to build bridges where there are walls. I believe that Muslims and non-Muslims can sit together at the table of fellowship to discuss common concerns. I wish that on the Kalimah Allah issue, a spirit of respectful dialogue with humility and maturity could replace the shrill voices of discord and threats that have characterised the debate during the last few years. If only we could calmly listen to each other and try to understand each other’s fears and suspicions, we could arrive at some broad agreements.

16. In fact, a middle path already exists in the assiduously arrived-at Ten-Point Agreement of April 2011. We need to honour this solemn pact and do whatever is necessary legally and politically to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way. The obstacles are indeed many. Neverthelss there is no issue that is so intractable that it cannot be resolved. We all need to sit down at the table of fellowship to listen to each other’s concerns. I am encouraged by the Qur’anic injunction in Surah 29:46: “And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best”.

17. Finally, fair and moderate solutions will require leadership and sacrifice. As the Rev. Jesse Jackson said ”leaders of substance do not follow opinion polls; they mould opinion, not with guns or dollars or position but with the power of their souls”.

[1] Mohamed Ajmal Bin Abdul Razak Al-Aidrus, Christians in Search of a name for God: The Right to Allah, ISTAC & IIUM, 2013, p. 2
[2] Mohamed Ajmal, supra, p. 8
[3] “Allah decree prevents Sikhs from reading holy book”, Malaysiakini, Jan. 8, 2013; “Your Highness, God has many names but …”, Malaysiakini, Jan 10, 2013
[4] Mohamed Ajmal, supra, p. 9
[5] Mohamed Ajmal Bin Abdul Razak Al-Aidrus, Christians in Search of a name for God: The Right to Allah, ISTAC & IIUM, 2013, p. 1
[6] Debra Chong, Christians mark 400 years of Malay Bible as ‘Allah’ case drags on”, The Malaysian Insider, 2 March 2012. The date 1612 is often quoted. See Mohamed Ajmal,  supra, p. 7.
[7] Mohamed Ajmal, supra, pp. 10-22, 45.
[8] Muslims are subject to additional restrictions. They will not be mentioned here.
[9] Mohamed Ajmal, supra, p. 13-14