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Saturday, October 26, 2013


FILIPINO Muslims have the constitutionally protected right to call God “Allah” or any name. In Cebu, an imam writes a weekly column on his faith.

Not in Malaysia. There, “Allah means God--unless you’re a Christian,” noted Time magazine. Or Sikh, Hindu or atheist. Only Muslims may invoke “Allah.” That triggered concern beyond Asean.

Kuala Lumpur courts ruled “Allah” transcended different faiths, four years back. No more, the flip-flop decision asserts: “Islam (is) vulnerable to conversion efforts.”

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Herald editor, Fr. Lawrence Andrew, said he’ll appeal. “Appalling,” snapped Jagir Singh, who heads the Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism. “Bahasa speaking Christians used “Allah” even before formation of Malaysia.”

Sabah and Sarawak churches said they’d invoke “Allah” as they’ve done for years. They’ll use the “Al-Kitab”--the Bahasa Malaysian version of the bible.

This rekindled 2007’s uproar. Government then confiscated 15,100 bibles, printed in Indonesia, which used "Allah.” After the High Court shredded that ban in 2009, non-Muslim temples were sacked.

“Islam is the religion of the federation but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony,” says the Malaysian Constitution. In the UN Declaration for Human Rights, Article 18 undergirds freedom of an individual or community “to practice’s one’s faith.”

Ethnic Malays form two-thirds of Malaysia’s 28 million people. Chinese and Indians number 22 percent and 7 percent. About 9 percent are Christian.

Religious intolerance triggers strife, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cautioned. “Public debate cannot be on whose religion is right or wrong but on rational considerations of public interest."

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population (205 million). But “no one who believes in one supreme God can claim exclusivity,” warned Endy M. Bayuni, Jakarta Post senior editor. “Indonesia and Malaysia may claim to have developed a more moderate strand of Islam. But there is only a thin line dividing tolerance and intolerance.”

"Arabic's sister Semitic languages" used similar words for the Deity, namely “Elaha” in Aramaic and “Elohim” in Hebrew, wrote opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim in Wall Street Journal. "Historical manuscripts prove that Arabic-speaking Muslims, Christians and Jews collectively prayed to Allah for over 1,400 years."

KL’s politicians and the United National Malays Organization hailed the straitjacket. “This is to appease extremist supporters” after Prime Minister Najib Razak won a thin majority, parliamentarian Yusof Rawa wrote. The parties play the “radical and religious card” to woo votes.

“Move to another country if you can’t accept supremacy of Islam,” snapped spokesperson Abdullah Zaik Rahman. No, former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim told the Malay Mail. “We should instead get (hardliners) to move over to Saudi Arabia. There, sovereignty of Islam is not questioned...We have become a nation we were not.”

The “beginning of wisdom is to call all things by their right names,” a Chinese proverb teaches. The world’s major faiths revere Divinity’s name.

Muslims have 95 other names for Allah. Jews would not address God directly. Many where scandalized when Jesus taught his followers: “Say Our Father…”Abba.” Tatay. Dad. Ama.

Names have a function. Adam, Genesis tells us, named all creatures. And on the night before He died, Christ prayed for others: “Protect them with the Name you gave to me.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 27, 2013.

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