By Wong Choon Mei
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 5: Even as ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad ratcheted up the Umno rhetoric against non-Muslims using the word Allah, Pakatan Rakyat leaders gave the thumbs-up to PAS for supporting the use of the word by Christians on the condition that it is not abused or misused inappropriately.
As a way forward, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang called on Prime Minister Najib Razak to convene an inter-religious dialogue to sort out the controversy, rather than rely on the courts to resolve the sensitive issue, which can easily be twisted by political groups with vested interests.
Lim’s proposal was in sync and follows a similar proposal from PAS spiritual adviser Nik Aziz Nik Mat to Christian leaders to meet for the purpose of finding best-fit solutions.
“The cabinet tomorrow should convene an inter-religious conference to reach an out-of-court settlement of the “Allah controversy” to demonstrate that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1Malaysia policy has meaningful application towards creating inter-religious understanding, goodwill and harmony,” Kit Siang said in his blog.
“In the first place, the Home Ministry should not have imposed the ban on the Herald from using the world Allah in the Catholic weekly publication.”
Consider rules and guidelines
The DAP veteran was referring to last week’s High Court decision to reverse the ministry’s ban on a Catholic magazine, the Herald, from using the word Allah to describe God in its Malay-language section.
Lim also recommended the Umno-BN to heed the advice of former Perlis mufti Dr Asri Zainal Abidin, who had suggested guidelines to protect both Muslims and non-Muslims.
“The former Perlis Mufti suggested reasonable guidelines to avoid the misuse of “Allah”, but at the same time, people should not be denied their rights to mention God’s name, even though they are not of the Muslim faith,” Kit Siang said.
Asri had written in his blog that : “The best thing for a government to do in a multi-racial society is to set reasonable guidelines or rules. I feel that in a country, it is not about emotions, it is about how we manage ourselves with proper rules of conduct. Rules need to be drawn up so that people won’t misuse the name of Allah.”
Even Arab Christians and Sikhs used Allah – the Arabic word for God – in their worship, Asri had pointed out
Yet some still spew hate and distrust
However, despite the widespread dismay felt by non-Muslims throughout the country over the emotional outbursts of several Umno-backed NGOs, who threatened mass protests, former strongman Mahathir was unrepentant. Known for his dictatorial ways, Mahathir has been very vocal against non-Muslims using the word Allah.
Like Kit Siang, he too suggested that Najib, who has filed an appeal against the ruling, should not to rely on the courts to resolve the issue. But instead of recommending dialogue amongst the heads of different religious groups, he urged Najib to wield a stronger hand and use his executive powers.
“This is something sensitive which cannot be resolved by the courts,” Mahathir wrote in his blog. “The law does not take into account whether a particular issue is sensitive or otherwise and whether it has the potential to spark tension or animosity between the believers of different faiths.”
His posting drew mixed response with some suggesting that he was out of date and should listen to his eldest daughter Marina Mahathir, who has publicly backed the use of Allah by non-Muslims.
“It is not about God belonging to you, rather YOU belong to God,” Marina said in an interview with a news portal. “It is now the 21st century. What is the 21st century Muslim like? Different, or the same as how we were in the past? Sadly, the way we are looking at things right now, I’d say we are the same.”
Mahathir also drew fire from other Pakatan leaders, who blasted him for his divisive comments.
“Umno is obviously politicising the issue to split society and this is dangerous,” said Tian Chua, PKR director for strategy. “The stand taken by PAS is shared by Pakatan partners PKR and DAP. It is not a populist stand but one that has been studied in detail by the ulamak and is rooted and backed by theology.”