,THE government, regrettably, has decided to appeal against a decision by the High Court to allow four Arabic words – Allah, Baitullah, Solat and Kaabah – to be used by Malaysian Christians for religious and educational purposes.The verdict is also ambiguous as it confines the words to be used for ‘educational purposes’ only. How is educational purpose going to be defined? A magazine, newsletter or periodical can be educational, informational and religious at the same time.Where is one to draw the line on the usage of the 4 words? It is further complicated by the fact that the East Malaysians have been using these words since 1700 when they converted to Christianity. So have the Indonesians. These words have become an integral part of their Malay mother tongue.The problem arose when a large number of East Malaysians moved to the peninsula for work or education, and churches began catering to these Christians in their own mother tongue.East Malaysian Christians can be found in large numbers attending Church services in the peninsula. Magazines and weeklies catering for them also began to use these Arabic words.Peninsular Christians have not used these words as they use English, Tamil, Malayalam or Mandarin during their religious services. In the peninsula, almost all Malays were Muslims and the words were restricted to them.Hence there was no problem. The controversy came after Sabah and Sarawak became part of Malaysia in 1963 and interaction between the communities began. In Singapore too, it is the same as in the peninsula although the government there does not restrict the use of words such as ‘Allah’ to any particular community.To deny East Malaysians usage of the four words is an injustice, and further, it becomes humorous when one can use these words in East Malaysia but not in the peninsula when both are an integral part of Malaysia.This problem appears to be unique to Malaysia and mostly because of politicking and polemics and not anything religious or concerning language.The legal challenge initiated by Jill Ireland, a Sarawakian native, concerning the seizure of her CDs and religious books was instituted in 2009, and, after all these years of waiting, the High Court pronounced the recent judgement.Now that Putrajaya has appealed, the case could go on for years, possibly until a Federal Court decision. This does not augur well for religious harmony in the country and an amicable solution must be found.It will be better if the government referred this matter to the Al-Azhar Observatory for Grand Iman Prof. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb and his teams of jurists and Islamic experts for a well thought out judgement.The decisions by the local courts are not going to placate or satisfy the peninsular Malays/Muslims who appear to be the main opponents on this issue.Since the Al-Azhar Observatory commands much respect among Sunni Muslims worldwide, including Malaysia, I strongly feel that this option needs to be explored.Alternatively, the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) and CFM can also refer this controversy to the venerable Egyptian institution. As is well known, the Grand Imam commands great respect among both Muslim and Christian Arabs as well as world leaders.Egypt has about 10 million Coptic Christians and about 3% to 5% of all Arabs are Christians. Arab Christians have been notable for their contributions in academia, professions and literature.I am sure that this hallowed and erudite religious institution will make a reasonable decision that will be acceptable and adhered to by West Malaysian Muslims.Words like “Allah” or “Kaabah” predate Islam and Arab Muslims and Christians used them without any problems or misunderstanding.Even during the heyday of Islamic power and domination – from the Ummayads to the Abbasids to the Ottomans – no caliph, sultan, shah, sheikh, emir or emperor had forbidden Christian Arabs from using these words and causing confusion among the Muslims in their vast territories even though the word “Allah” to Arab Christians refers to the “Trinity”, while it refers to a singular God for Muslims.If these words did not cause any controversy or confusion to the Arabs – the Prophet’s people – who were the first Muslims, why should it be a problem for the West Malaysian Malay/Muslims 1,400 years later who unreasonably feel that these words are copyrighted for their exclusive use only!This is a problem only in the Peninsula and Malaysians need to understand that East and West Malaysia are part and parcel of one nation, Malaysia.It is time to take into consideration that we are one diverse, united entity and consider present realities rather than be shackled by past history.Issues like this could weaken the bond between East and West and lead to unforeseen problems in the future. The sea already divides East and West Malaysia geographically, don’t let this politicised issue split the country further that could possibly lead to a break-up of Malaysia.It will be better if the federal government re-considered the appeal, which is mainly for political expediency, and for no other sound reason. – March 18, 2021.*V. Thomas reads The Malaysian Insight. * This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.
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