Friday, 8 January 2010

The Politics of 'Allah' - Malaysia is still struggling to uphold basic freedoms.

JANUARY 6, 2010, 2:21 P.M. ET

God means love in many places, but in Malaysia it can also mean politics. That's the takeaway from the United Malays National Organization-led government's attempt to quash the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslim groups.

At issue is the Catholic Herald's two-year court battle to use the A-word in its Malay-language edition—which it claims it needs to do because there's no other suitable word for "God" in Malay. Last week, the High Court overturned an arbitrary government ban. Yesterday, however, the church agreed to a stay of the decision—at the government's request—until the ruling can be appealed. So the Herald is once again muzzled.

Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail characterized the decision as "a matter of national interest," which implies that somehow Muslims across Malaysia would revolt if the Herald were allowed to reference God in another language. Never mind that Malaysians of many faiths have peacefully co-existed for decades.

The real reason UMNO is politicizing the issue and pandering to its conservative base may be to deflect attention from its own political vulnerabilities. The opposition coalition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, has gained popularity by touting a vision of a secular country in which all religions have equal rights. Even the opposition's Islamic partner, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party—which hasn't always supported liberal ideas—issued a statement Monday saying that the Herald's use of "Allah" is its constitutional right.

Prime Minister Najib Razak called the A-word controversy a "sensitive issue" Sunday. But by allowing his party to continue curtailing freedom of speech, he is only stirring tensions. What a disappointment for a man who ran for office promising to create "One Malaysia."


Source: The Wall Street Journal

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Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Malaysia court suspends "Allah" ruling

By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 1/6/2010 Malaysia court suspends "Allah" ruling in blow for Catholics

A Malaysian court on Wednesday suspended a ruling that allowed a Catholic newspaper to use the word "Allah", after the government argued the decision could cause racial conflict.

A Malaysian court on Wednesday suspended a ruling that allowed a Catholic newspaper to use the word "Allah", after the government argued the decision could cause racial conflict.

Malaysia's high court ruled last week that the Herald weekly had the right to use the word "Allah", after a long-running dispute with the government in the Muslim-majority nation.

The paper has been using the word as a translation for "God" in its Malay-language section, but the government argued it should be used only by Muslims.

Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail welcomed the high court's decision to issue a stay order pending an appeal on the ruling in favour of the church, which triggered a series of protests from Muslim groups.

"I made the request for a stay as it is a matter of national interest," Abdul Gani said at the court.

"We do not want the matter delayed and cause all kinds of tensions in the country" he told reporters. "I believe the Court of Appeal will hear the case very soon."

The Herald's editor Father Lawrence Andrew warned of a campaign of intimidation including hacker attacks against the weekly's website, protest threats and widespread criticism in the media over last week's ruling.

"We believe these actions (are designed) to create a climate of fear and a perceived threat to national security so as to pressure the court in reversing its decision," he said in a statement.

Outside the court, Father Lawrence said the Herald had agreed to the suspension of the controversial ruling.

"We are Malaysians and we want to live in peace and happiness," he said. "We will be rational in our approach in facing this situation. We do not want opportunists to take advantage of this situation."

The Herald's lawyer Derek Fernandez urged the attorney-general to take action against those who criticised the court decision -- which include senior government figures -- in defiance of sub judice laws that bar such comments.

Prime Minister Najib Razak met the nation's king on Wednesday to explain the issue, according to a statement which said Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin had consented to the government's actions.

"While the appeal process is going on, it is our responsibility not to do anything that can jeopardise the interest and well-being of the people," Najib said according to the official news agency Bernama.

The row is among a string of religious disputes that have erupted in recent years, straining relations between Muslim Malays and minority ethnic Chinese and Indians who fear the country is being "Islamised".

Religion and language are sensitive issues in multiracial Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.

The Herald is printed in four languages, with a circulation of 14,000 a week in a country with about 850,000 Catholics.


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Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Bishop of Breda: Lets Call God Allah

Let's call God Allah by Mohammed Abdelrahman & Nicolien den Boer*

14-08-2007

The Bishop of Breda, Tiny Muskens, wants people to start calling God Allah. He says the Netherlands should look to Indonesia, where the Christian churches already pray to Allah. It is also common in the Arab world: Christian and Muslim Arabs use the words God and Allah interchangeably.

Speaking on the Dutch TV programme Network on Monday evening, Bishop Muskens (pictured) says it could take another 100 years but eventually the name Allah will be used by Dutch churches. And that will promote rapprochement between the two religions.

Retiring

Muskens doesn't expect his idea to be greeted with much enthusiasm. The 71-year-old bishop, who will soon be retiring due to ill health, says God doesn't mind what he is called. God is above such "discussion and bickering". Human beings invented this discussion themselves, he believes, in order to argue about it.

More than 30 years ago Bishop Muskens worked in Indonesia and, there, God was called Allah, even in Catholic churches. The Dutch should learn to get on spontaneously with different cultures, religions and behaviour patterns:

"Someone like me has prayed to Allah yang maha kuasa (Almighty God) for eight years in Indonesia and other priests for 20 or 30 years. In the heart of the Eucharist, God is called Allah over there, so why can't we start doing that together?"

In the Arab world God is called Allah. The long history of Christianity in the Arab world led to the development of a rich Christian-Islamic theological vocabulary, which makes God a normal equivalent to Allah. Both Muslims and Christians use the word in the Middle East.

ar-Rabb

Apart from Allah, the term ar-Rabb (the Lord) is also widely used, although this appears far more often in the Arabic version of the Bible than in the Qur'an. In the Islamic context, references to ar-Rabb are normally found in the possessive form, such as Rabbi (My Lord). Interestingly, the word Allah was already in use by Christians in the pre-Islamic period.

Bishop Muskens proposal will undoubtedly receive a warm welcome from the Islamic community in the Netherlands. Particularly as it follows last week's remarks by Geert Wilders about banning the Qur'an and, shortly before that, former Muslim Ehsan Jami's comparison of Muhammad with Osama bin Laden.

Attention

Perhaps this is the reason Bishop Muskens' remarks have received so much attention in the Dutch press. The bishop actually said exactly the same several years ago. He also suggested abolishing Whit Monday as a national holiday in favour of an Islamic religious day.

In the past, Bishop Muskens has offended many Muslims. In 2005 he said Islam was a religion without a future because it had too many violent aspects. The bishop is also responsible for a number of controversial remarks. He caused uproar in the Netherlands when he said the poor had a right to steal bread if they were hungry. And he put the Vatican's back up with an appeal for the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS.


* Translated from Dutch (imm)

Courtesy of Radio Nederland Wereldomroep (Radio Nedetherlands Worldwide)

Ooops! PAS Scholar Haron Din's Fatwa inconsistent with his party's Decision

Islamic scholars: Haron wrong about 'kufur' Jimadie Shah Othman
Jan 5, 10 6:55pm

The heated argument over the use of 'Allah' by non-Muslims has been raised a notch as several Muslim scholars criticised PAS deputy spiritual leader Haron Din for his kufur (non-believers) remark.

Haron had reportedly affixed the label to Muslims who defend the right of non-Muslims to use the word 'Allah' for God, following the ruling by the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Dec 31 last year.

Renowned scholar and former Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin said Haron should explain the rationale of his comment and not misinterpret other people's opinions.

“I want to ask him: If we hear the non-Muslims say 'Allah created the universe', would we want to take action against them? And would we want to order them to say 'other Gods created the universe'?” he asked.

Mohd Asri said Haron's comment is contrary to that of PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, reached by consensus at a party meeting last night.

“It is not easy to accuse someone of apostasy, when (Haron's) own party says that non-Muslims can use the word 'Allah',” said Mohd Asri.

“The term has been used since the time of Prophet Muhammad. It is even enshrined in Islamic history. When the Prophet signed an agreement with the (non-Muslim) Quraish clan, it included the word 'Allah'.”

Abdul Hadi said the word 'Allah' may be used by Christians and Jews, but he also said the term should not be abused or exploited as this could affect racial and religious harmony.

In this respect, Mohd Asri reiterated for a guideline or law over the use of the word, in order to prevent provocation.

'Hold dialogues'

PAS consultative council member Ahmad Awang is of the opinion that akidah (faith) issues and court decisions are different things altogether.

“It would be more deviating to say that the word 'Allah' is exclusive only to Muslims because 'Allah' is the God of the universe and of all mankind,” he said.

The High Court decision could lead to strengthening Muslims' understanding of their faith, argued the former Perak PAS commissioner.

He suggested, however, that dialogues be held between those of different religions, to ensure that the word 'Allah' is not abused.

The issue is rooted in a ban imposed by the Home Ministry on Catholic weekly magazine The Herald, against use of the word 'Allah'.

The Herald, which is printed in four languages, has been using the word as a translation for 'God' in its Malay-language section, but the government argued that it should be used only by Muslims.

The term 'Allah' is widely used among Christian indigenous peoples in Sabah and Sarawak, many of whom speak Bahasa Malaysia.

The ministry is appealing the High Court decision, as well as seeking a 'stay' order to prevent use of the word in the interim.


Courtesy of Malaysiakini

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Here We Go Again: Malaysian government to appeal 'Allah' ruling

By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 1/3/2010 Malaysian government to appeal 'Allah' ruling: minister


Malaysia's minister in charge of Muslim affairs has said the government will appeal a court ruling allowing a Catholic paper the right to use the word "Allah".

Malaysia's minister in charge of Muslim affairs has said the government will appeal a court ruling allowing a Catholic paper the right to use the word "Allah".

Malaysia's high court ruled last week the Herald weekly had the right to use the word "Allah" after a long-running dispute between the government and the newspaper in the Muslim-majority nation.

The paper has been using the word as a translation for "God" in its Malay-language section, but the government argued the word should be used only by Muslims.

Jamil Khir Johari said the country's national fatwa council had ruled in May 2008 that "Allah" could only be used by Muslims in Malaysia, state news agency Bernama reported late Saturday.

"It is important for Muslims here to guard the use of the word and if there is any attempt to insult or misuse the word we must take all legal action as allowed under the federal constitution," he was quoted as saying by Bernama.

Meanwhile the Herald's website was hacked at the weekend, causing the site to shut down, editor Father Lawrence Andrew told AFP.

"Our website was attacked by hackers and was shut down and we suspect it was done by those unhappy with the present situation," he said, while declining to comment on the government's plan to appeal.

The court ruled on Thursday the Catholic paper had the "constitutional right" to use the word "Allah", declaring the government's ban on the word "illegal, null and void".

Muslim groups have said they plan to protest the ruling.

Universiti Teknologi MARA political analyst Shahruddin Badaruddin said the main issue amongst Muslims was the fear that the use of the word by non-Muslims would inflame religious tensions.

"It is all about the fear that allowing use of the word will make it easier for Christians to convert the local population," he told AFP.

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad said the use of the term had to be governed strictly but that Muslims would still be angry over the ruling, according to the New Straits Times.

The Herald is printed in four languages, with a circulation of 14,000 a week in a country with about 850,000 Catholics.

The court case was one of a string of religious disputes that have erupted in recent years, straining relations between Muslim Malays and minority ethnic Chinese and Indians who fear the country is being "Islamised".



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