Allah controversy: Bigots exploiting religious insecurities


Insecurities over the Allah controversy can be overcome by nurturing wisdom through religous education that projects great emotional intellectualism and depth, says Syerleena Abdul Rashid.

Allah controversry protest
Groups linked to Selangor Umno protest against the use of the word Allah by Christians – Photograph:

Malaysia is a multi-racial society with Muslims making up almost 65 per cent of the population. Interestingly enough, our Federal Constitution has established that Malaysia is a secular state (although, not an absolute secular state) with Islam as an official religion.

But this truth has been distorted over the years by unscrupulous politicians. It is hard to pinpoint exactly when our country took a hard right turn and began to embrace a rather extremist brand of Islam.

The ‘Allah’ controversy and Jais’ recent raid do more harm than good. Acts that portray blatant disregard for basic human rights and an increase in religious persecution threaten to destroy racial harmony and the very fabric that ties Malaysians together regardless of ethnicity or religion.

Malaysians must ask one another, how do we deal with the fear (whether real or imagined) of some self-righteous manipulators who believe that the use of the word Allah by Christians is detrimental to the faith of other fellow Muslims? What can we do to prevent a ‘minority government’ from instilling their brand of religion upon its people?

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We live in an age of science and technology where everyone can easily access information with a simple click of a button. In this borderless world, nothing is sacrosanct, hence, no news or report escapes public scrutiny. Present day Malaysian society cannot be called upon to accept exclusive revelations or inconceivable dogmas presented by those blinded by the lust of power and ignorance. We are too smart to fall for the lies and we care too much about the fate of our fellow brothers and sisters.

Religions that are insensitive to social ills and crime do not appeal to modern society. Religions that justify division, discord and disintegration are not only unacceptable but are downright antithetical to the modern progressive multiracial society. Negative attitudes and biased opinions do not foster unity, instil respect and evoke empathy. These elements go against the very foundation that all religions are built upon.

‘God’ may have many names but it all boils down to the same principles at the end of the day. Respect, tolerance and compassion towards all living things are endorsed, upheld and encouraged. These are the humbling pillars of faith of any religious philosophy regardless of what any politician may say.

The fear that the use of the word Allah (which is the Arabic word for God or in our national language, Tuhan) will create widespread confusion amongst the Malaysian Muslim community and weaken their faiths, especially the younger generation is downright asinine.

Therefore, is it just for a ‘minority government’ to forbid the use of the said word by other religions? Is banning the ultimate solution for this malarkey?

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The fear felt by some Muslims on this issue is natural. Nevertheless, let’s not forget that the same fear is also felt by other religions too, especially when it concerns the beliefs of their children. The best way to overcome this is by nurturing wisdom and sensibility. It is our responsibility to teach children to understand faith and religion in a way that projects great emotional intellectualism and profound depth.

That is what is sorely missing from religious education in our society today. If people are only taught the rituals (the dos and don’ts), told to shut their minds – to follow without questioning and are driven into blind obedience by the horrors that might befall upon them in the afterlife, then their understanding of their religion will be shallow and fragile.

This is when ignorance and fear will be exploited to heighten extremist political propaganda. When they come in contact with another faith that may be interpreted in a way that is more rational and more profound, they will lack the ability to comprehend rationally and resort to mindless, overzealous banter.

This is what we are witnessing today in many Muslim countries. Unfortunately, for Malaysia, this is becoming a permanent fixture in our political scene. What sort of faith supports arrogance, animosity and terror?

In upholding our own truths, we must not trespass on the truths of others. The study and the teaching of religion must begin with an inter-faith perspective. People must be taught to accept that every religion is a legitimate expression of seeking the same universal truth. The concept of family, justice and love can be found in every religion. There is no exclusivity and no religious superiority.

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If people are unable to see these shared values, it is because they are not in touch with the core of inner truth and do not understand the essence of humankind. When bigotry is accepted as a legitimate religious belief, it is the insecurities and the fear that justify such behaviour. There will be those who will vindicate such beliefs and use it to propagate repression and intimidation of other religions or even to shut the minds of their own people.

This path to social destruction has to stop.

Syerleena Abdul Rashid, an Aliran member, is a water sports instructor and part-time postgraduate student in tourism development.

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