Archive for January 18th, 2010




In the light of the “Allah controversy” the Malay/ Muslim equation in Malaysia is facing fresh scrutiny and analyses – many of them prejudiced verging on racist; some racially biased; a few objective and analytical!

When there are ideological differences among people of different religions, there are bound to be divergent views and opinions understandably biased towards their own particular faith and beliefs. When there are socio-cultural differences each group veers towards its own mores – its distinctive practices, customs and traditions, its own ancestry and legacy. For we are born into this world not on the pure, white slate that our religions teach us to believe, but with the multifarious religio-cultural baggage of our families and communities. This is the stark reality!

I believe being racial is instinctive; being partial to one’s race , community, culture and religion is natural; being biased without prejudice in an informed manner is civilised.  We do after all grow up in an environment very much nurtured by our particular set of norms and values. Our thinking, conduct and behaviour conform to certain patterns influenced by the wisdom of those that came before us. This is the basis of society and culture!

In the animal world it is natural for like species to flock or herd together by virtue of shared instincts, characteristics, features, habits and habitat! In the animal kingdom, fleeing from predators and oftentimes warding off their attacks intensifies the herd instinct and consolidates the defence mechanisms in the animals. Animals in the wild are fiercely territorial, even house pets jealously guard their space against the incursions of their owners.

What more humans who have innate mental capacities to think and reason! With education, exposure and experience these become acutely sharpened and serve to moderate the emotions.

In the “Allah impasse” we are witnessing the Muslims in Malaysia jealously protecting their territory against the incursions of the Christians! The majority of the Muslims in Malaysia wonder why the word “Allah” which has developed  in Islam as the sacred, inviolable concept of God is being wrested by a Christian newsletter partial to the use of Allah for God in the Bahasa Indonesia translation of the Bible.

The Malays in Malaysia who, by reason of history, culture and decree, are Muslims wonder why the word Allah which is the all-encompassing concept of the Almighty in their Islamic Malay culture is being “hijacked”  by Christians for whom the concept of God is substantively different. Although there are overlaps in the  theological bases of Islam and Christianity, in the history of the two religions and their prophets, each has emerged as distinct creeds with a multitude of adherents throughout the world.  Within each religion, too, has developed different interpretations of the  rites and rituals and the rules governing them. One thing however remains constant , unchanging and unchangeable – the Unity in the Islamic concept of God and the Trinity in the Christian concept of God. While the concept of a universal God is inherent in both religions, His manifestations and worship are different in each. Similarly, the manifestations of God in the other religions are distinct!

It is no wonder, therefore ,that the Malay Muslims who adhere to a conservative  understanding of  the sanctity of Allah in Islam are unhappy with the borrowing of the term by the Christians. In their traditional understanding Allah is not merely the name for God but an all-encompassing concept of God and His many attributes in Islam.  The more liberal Muslims in Malaysia whose emphasis is that there is only one God for all religions choose to adopt a more accomodating stand and see nothing wrong with the Christian borrowing.

As in the animal world  where there are species and sub species, in human  society there are groups and sub groups. each highly protective of their human rights of freedom of speech and expression, and defensive of their opinions and viewpoints. The less educated, exposed and experienced with little ability or opportunity to articulate their frustrations over what they perceive as an affront to Islam resort to the physical means of attack as their line of defense.

The current controversy has resulted in  a fresh round of Malay bashing by the liberal Malays as well as by other Malaysians on the more conservative Malay Muslim believers. The latter  are being  seen as rigidly orthodox in their Islamic beliefs and unaccomodating in their relationship with the people of other faiths. What is intriguing in all of this is that the very liberals who have instituted the challenge in court and argued that the use of the word Allah is their historical right supported by their modern day right of the freedom of speech, are relatively silent in the discourses that have ensued in the mainstream media and on the internet.  

It appears as though the Malay Muslims alone are to blame for being emotional in defending their religion and cultural territory. It appears as if  the Malays alone are responsible for creating the interreligious unrest and interracial tensions that are emerging in the country.

It appears that once again the mores which have been determined by birth and  nurtured in the socio-cultural milieu are being challenged by groups claiming a more liberal and democratic understanding of them. It appears that  the Malay Muslim equation which has been accepted in the spirit of the Federal Constitution is proving to be the subject of snide racism and intellectual bigotry and as the punching bag for the people who are intent on seeing the Malays fall from their socio-political heights.

The saddest thing is that the Malay Muslims themselves are being pitted against one another at  the urgings of those eager  to prove their own supremacy.

January 2010
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