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Why does ‘Allah’ confuse Malay-Muslim Malaysians?

By P. Ramakrishnan

Why does the word ‘Allah’ become an issue only here in Malaysia and nowhere else in the world?

Why do the Muslim-Malays get confused when the non-Muslims use the word Allah in their daily conversation, as claimed by some Malay-Muslim leaders?

It is a fact that except in Malaysia, people all over the world –– both Muslims and non-Muslims – are never confused about their God, when the Almighty is referred to as ‘Allah’. They seem to know who their God is! They don’t get confused when the Sikhs, the Jews, the Arabs refer to their God as ‘Allah’.

Why then does it become an issue only here in Malaysia? Why do the Muslim-Malays get confused when the non-Malays use the word ‘Allah’ in their daily conversation, as claimed by some Malay-Muslim leaders?

It is difficult to understand why when they hear non-Muslims using the word ‘Allah’, they get confused? In what way do they get confused? We don’t know! We are not told. Do they really get confused as claimed by some religious zealots? Or is it a mere political gimmick by certain Malay political leaders to garner support for their party?

What comes to their mind the moment they hear the word ‘Allah’ spoken by the non-Muslims? Wouldn’t it be natural for them to recall the Quran and the Holy Prophet under the circumstance? What other thoughts come to their mind when the non-Muslims use the word – pray tell us? Is there really a problem?

The ordinary, decent and caring Malay-Muslims, those friendly neighbours and friends, to the best of our knowledge, remain unaffected. In their daily dealings and interactions with the non-Muslims, they don’t get upset or agitated when their non-Muslim colleagues say, “Hanya, ‘Allah’ sahaja tahu” meaning, “Only God knows.” Or when the non-Malays say, “Tuan ‘Allah’ tahu,” meaning, “The Almighty God knows”.

It is accepted as a statement of fact! They agree and accept that only the Almighty knows. They don’t go into an argument as to what or which God was referred to. ‘Allah’ is God as defined in their faith and tradition.

At this level, there is no confusion at all! There is no objection to the use of the word ‘Allah’ by the non-Muslims. They don’t get agitated or upset! They simply don’t care if non-Muslims use this word.

So far, we haven’t heard or seen ordinary Malay-Muslims protesting against the use of ‘Allah’ by others. They are not agitated or upset. It is only certain Malay-Muslim political leaders who are alleging that the Muslims are confused when the non-Muslims say the word ‘Allah’.

This is the position of PAS and its leaders who are the cause for this agitation in certain sections of the Muslim society. It is the political leaders who are whipping up and agitating the ordinary Malay-Muslims to object to the use of the word ‘Allah’. If these political leaders leave the ordinary Malays alone, there will be no clamouring for the prohibition of the word by non-Malays.

PAS and its leaders are the ones who are beating the war drums to rally support objecting to non- Muslims using this word.

It is an established fact that the word ‘Allah’ had existed for hundreds of years even during the time of Helen of Troy before the advent of Islam which came about 500 years after Christianity. No one in the Muslim world –except for Malaysia – have claimed ownership to this word and insisted on the exclusive right for their use only. They understand they don’t have the right to impose this claim for their exclusive use. They appreciate that this is a universal word and everyone has a right to use this word without any hindrance. Even the Arabs don’t claim ownership of this word which was in use for centuries in Saudi Arabia, the birth place of Islam.

The Quran does not prohibit non-Malays from using this word. Neither does the Quran claim exclusive usage or ownership of the word ‘Allah’. For Muslim-Malays in Malaysia to lay claim to this word for their exclusive use is without justification. There is no basis to claim ownership to this word. It is tantamount to being ridiculous!

Strangely, the word is allowed to be uttered and used in Sabah and Sarawak. Going by the unfounded claim of the Muslim-Malays of West Malaysia, wouldn’t it be natural for the Muslim-Malays in Sabah and Sarawak to be confused as well? Or is it a case that the Malays in Sabah and Sarawak belong to a different species?

Should Muslim-Malays travel to Suadi Arabia where both the Muslims and non-Muslims use the word ‘Allah’ commonly and freely? How come no one who has been to Saudi Arabia has been inflicted with this confusion – after all, thousands upon thousands of Muslim-Malays have been to Saudi Arabia and continue to go every year?

Let’s conduct a simple test among the Muslim-Malay leaders of standing in Malaysia to verify the validity of this absurd claim that Muslim-Malays become confused when ‘Allah’ is used by the non-Muslims. We hope that they would be brave and honest enough to answer truthfully. Their answers will either confirm or demolish this claim as having no basis.

Prime Minister Dato Sri Anwar Ibrahim, are you confused?

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, are you confused?

PAS president Tan Sri Hadi Awang, are you confused?

PAS secretary-general Datuk Seri Takiyuddin, are you confused?

Former twice prime minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad, are you confused?

Former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, are you confused?

Former prime minister, Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, are you confused?

Muda president Syed Saddiq bin Syed Abdul Rahman, are you confused?

Let’s hope that all these Muslim-Malay leaders of prominence will have the courage to answer this simple question addressed individually to them. Their response will help allay the fears of others who are disturbed that the word ‘Allah’ would cause so much confusion.

They have an obligation to our society to be transparent and accountable and we hope that they will live up to the expectation of all Malaysians.

Let’s remember and be guided by this pearl of wisdom from Abu Daawood that “the biggest breach of trust is that you tell a thing to your brother who believes it to be true, whereas you have lied to him.”

FIrst published at this link on 24 May 2023

(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)

P Ramakrishnan is the long-serving former president of Aliran who served three and a half decades on its executive committee, has been with Aliran since its inception in 1977. Now an ordinary Aliran member, he continues to highlight issues of public interest to a larger audience.

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