Allah’ accord remains elusive

By Debra Chong

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 — The controversy over non-Muslims using the word “Allah” looks likely to rage on further despite an apparent consensus following a pow-wow by Islamic experts here last week.

Former Perlis Mufti Dr Asri Zainul Abidin (picture) told The Malaysian Insider that the main thrust of the day-long expert discussion — or muzakarah as it is termed in the Islamic context — dealt with whether or not non-Muslims could use the word “Allah” and the general agreement was that they could, based on certain guidelines which have yet to be spelled out.

“We discussed whether they could use or not,” Asri said, referring to the ongoing debate on allowing Christians to use the word “Allah” to refer to their God.

But, former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Badawi who chaired the closed-door expert discussion hosted by the government-linked Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim), had later told reporters the 70-strong participants had “unanimously agreed” that the source of the “religious crisis” that had befallen Malaysia could be traced back to the “inaccurate” Christian translation of “God” as “Allah” even as he pushed for inter-faith dialogues to resolve the problem.

This prompted a joint clarification from PAS President Datuk Seri Hadi Awang, PKR central committee member Dr Mohd Nur Manuty and Asri.

In their joint statement the three men stated that the use of the word “Allah” for the purposes of religious practices, whether among Christians or Jews was allowed under Islam.

“To ensure national harmony, this debate should be resolved by promoting the culture of inter-faith dialogue which is mature and intelligent.

“The irresponsible use of the word “Allah” must be avoided so that it does not become an issue which can affect racial and religious harmony. As such a guideline on its use must be established,” the three men said.

A huge religious debate had exploded here pitting Muslims against non-Muslims following a landmark High Court ruling last December that the Arabic word “Allah” was not exclusive to Islam and that a Malaysian Catholic newspaper could publish it to refer to God in the Christian sense to cater to their Bahasa Malaysia-speaking followers.

Many Malaysian Muslims claim “Allah” is exclusive to their community.

In his press statement earlier, Abdullah had used the word “a majority” to describe the panellists and participants who shared the view that the “inaccurate” translation of the word “Allah” had been the source of the dispute.

“There were no dissenting views. It was unanimous,” he claimed when asked who the minority participants were who disagreed with the root cause of the problem.

Asri was surprised at Abdullah’s public statement and strongly disagreed with the ex-premier that the day-long discussion centred on whether the translation was accurate or not.

“The question was whether they could use or not,” said Asri.

He said Ikim’s stand was that non-Muslims were misusing the word “Allah”.

“But that’s a different concept of religion,” Asri emphasised to The Malaysian Insider, pointing out that non-Muslims were entitled to argue the theological differences.

“We,” Asri stressed, referring to himself, the PAS president and the PKR leader, “say they can use the word ‘Allah’, but must have certain guidelines.”

The Muslim cleric frequently described as a maverick said Ikim concurred on that point and said they would discuss further what those guidelines should be.

But Asri, who was among seven panellists invited to head the expert discussion, said he would not be involved in those extra discourses.

The other speakers were: PAS president, Datuk Seri Hadi Awang; PKR central leadership council member, Dr Mohd Nur Manuty; religious adviser to the prime minister, Datuk Dr Abdullah Md Zain; Dr Kamar Oniah Kamaruzzaman, an associate professor in the International Islamic University’s Usuluddin and Comparative Religion department; Dr Mohd Sani Badron, Ikim’s centre of economic and social studies director; and his Ikim colleague Md Asham Ahmad, a fellow in the centre for syariah, law and politics centre.

Some 70 people took part in the discussion, including representatives from the Attorney General’s Chambers, state Islamic councils, state mufti department, academics and non-governmental Muslim organisations.

Ikim had been set up in 1992 “to promote the real understanding of Islam in order to sanctify the true teachings of the religion without indulging in rhetorics or diverging from the correct path”, according to the information on its website.

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