Friday, January 04, 2008

What is in a name after all

God is God whatever you call Him

The year 2008 began with much euphoria at the news that the annual permit for the publication of Herald,the Catholic Weekly in Malaysia, had finally been approved unconditionally. The unusually rare gesture of religious goodwill and tolerance by the government was described as a “wonderful Christmas present”. However this sense of euphoria lasted just four days when the cabinet intervened,as what can be described as a backward move,to ban non-Muslims from using ‘Allah’ to refer to their God.

Although it is commendable that the Herald is permitted to continue its Bahasa Malaysia section, the decision by the Cabinet to disallow the use of the word “Allah” by the Herald in its publications and by non-Muslims in general is deeply regrettable. It is not only a setback for religious freedom and integration in the country but may also be unconstitutional as is the refusal to renew Herald’s permit for such illegitimate reasons.

The word "Allah" is the description of the "One God" of monotheism for Jews, Christians and Muslims.It is not only for Islam and Muslims but for all three Abrahamic faiths. "Allah" is the same word used by Christian Arabs and Jewish Arabs in their Bible, centuries before Islam came.

The word “Allah” is being used by non-Muslims all over and I agree that it is not an exclusive right of Muslims alone. The non-Muslims in Malaysia, like Christians and Sikhs, have been using the word ‘Allah’ without any problem. It would be wrong for the government now to create an issue out of something which has been a non-issue all these while.What is their motive in wanting to refrain others from using that word?

However having expressed our deepest regret and displeasure,we must seriously consider the Prime Minister’s concerns that the use of the word 'Allah' by non-Muslims may arouse sensitivity and create confusion among Muslims in the country. The situation in Malaysia, as we all know, is definitely peculiar and sadly we had contributed to it a great deal by our own doing. We can argue that we are being denied our fundamental rights to the use of the word but we must also consider its implications in this country.

At a time when racial and religious differences are causing so much tension and anxiety among the people, will a public debate on the ‘Allah’ issue help to restore the much needed inter-religious harmony? I think it would only aggravate the fragile situation we have today. Our politicians,being opportunists as they are, will only be too happy to capitalize on the issue for their own advantage, especially with the general elections so near.

We are frustrated and tempted to react with anger and hate. Nevertheless as followers of Christ, it is relevant for us to recall the great lesson of our Master and Lord,Jesus, to offer the other cheek when struck on one. It is an opportunity for us to show them the true meaning of goodwill and tolerance. These virtues may appear to make us the losers in a material world governed by power and egomania but truth will definitely prevail as the ultimate victor in our struggle for justice.

Let us thank the authorities for giving the much needed publicity for the Herald and continue to worship God by whatever names we are used to and comfortable with. After all what is in a name as God is still God by whatever name we call him.

We have a lot of other more pressing issues to attend to like declining morality among our youth, increasing divorce and family break-up, blatant abuse of power, inter-faith disputes,racial and religious discrimination. We also have our hands full with problems related to our own Church such as the dwindling participation in Church organizations, the failure of BECs, unprofessional administration of parishes, declining Christian education and so on.

Let us be more worried about the rapidly declining influence of the Church in the lives of people in the world especially the West. Christianity is losing its identity as the promoter of peace,love,humility,forgiveness,morality and a champion of the masses.Let’s spend more of our time and energy to address these problems that plague our Church in particular and Christianity in general.

Let us appeal against the cabinet decision and request for a full and extensive consultation of all religious leaders and faiths on the subject before a final decision is made.Let’s implore the Holy Spirit to guide the minds of all so that we can one day, regardless of our different religious believes, come together as His children, to worship the one true God, addressing Him by any name we like.

Dr.Chris Anthony

1 comment:

MaRvELgAL said...

Hi Dr Chris,

But isn't it as important to fight for our rights as a Christian? First is the ban of 'Allah', what else would come next? No crosses to be displayed on churches and missionary schools? No statues outside of church? How long should we tolerate? How much should we tolerate? Soon Christians all over Malaysia would be so afraid to be Christians!