By Boo Su-Lyn
The Malay Mail Online
October 17, 2013
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 17 — Malaysia’s court ruling on Muslims’ exclusivity over “Allah” could inspire Indonesians of the faith to lay the same claim over the Arabic word, Jakarta Post warned in an editorial yesterday.
The English-language daily in Indonesia noted that religious exclusivism was equally strong in Indonesia, “if not stronger” than in neighbouring Malaysia, citing previous debates like whether non-Muslims should be allowed to say the traditional Arabic phrases “Assalamu’alaikum” (peace be upon you), “Alhamdulillah” (praise be to God) and “Insya Allah” (God willing).
“It’s only a matter of time before someone takes the cue from Malaysia and starts raising objections to non-Muslims using the word Allah,” Jakarta Post wrote in an editorial titled “No one has monopoly claim to God: On the use of ‘Allah’ in Malaysia”.
“No one who believes in the power of one supreme God can really claim exclusivity. There is no such thing as the God for Catholics, just as there is no such thing as the God or Allah for Muslims,” added the newspaper.
Jakarta Post stressed that “those who claim exclusivity to God undermine their own faith, and inadvertently or not, preach polytheism”.
The republic’s newspaper said it was ironic that religious exclusivism, “which goes against the grain of Islamic teaching”, was now formally entrenched in Malaysia, a country that takes pride in its racial and religious diversity.
The daily also noted that while Malaysian Muslims went for religious exclusivism, Pope Francis headed the opposite direction towards inclusivism by saying recently: “I believe in God, not in a Catholic God”.
“Monotheism is the foundation of the Abrahamic faiths – including Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and it entails that their followers pray to the same God Almighty. The Pope is only reaffirming the very principle of monotheism but at the same time he is promulgating the inclusivity of the deity,” said Jakarta Post.
“Every monotheistic religion will obviously claim exclusivity in their proximity to God, but that is not the same thing as claiming that God only listens to them and no one else,” it added.
On Monday, the Court of Appeal ruled against a High Court decision allowing the Catholic Church to refer to the Christian god with the Arabic word “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its weekly paper, the Herald.
The court adjudged the usage of the word “Allah” as not integral to the Christian faith and said that allowing such an application would cause confusion in the Muslim community.
The 2009 High Court ruling, which found that the word “Allah” was not exclusive to Muslims, had sparked a string of attacks like arson and vandalism against non-Muslim places of worship, including Christian churches and Sikh temples.
Besides Sikhs, Christians in Arabic-speaking countries use the Middle-Eastern word “Allah” to describe their god.
Jakarta Post noted that Indonesian Muslims, who shared the linguistic similarities with Malaysians, translate the phrase “Lailaha Illallah” to “Tiada tuhan selain Allah” (No God but Allah), instead of the literal translation “No god but God”.
“This erroneous translation may have become the basis that put Muslims in much of Southeast Asia to claim exclusivity to God,” it said.
The daily theorised that the distinction between Allah and God may have been made to help convert polytheists, since the people in the region were mostly Hindus and Buddhists before Islam arrived in the 14th century.
“The late Islamist scholar Nurcholish Madjid drew sharp rebukes when he suggested that Indonesians should translate the term to ‘No god but God’, so the idea was dropped prematurely,” said Jakarta Post.
The newspaper noted that Malaysia and Indonesia have, so far, practised a more moderate and tolerant strand of Islam, compared to Muslims in the Middle East, the origin of Islam, or in South Asia.
“But there is only a thin line dividing tolerance and intolerance, so we should not take this moderation for granted,” said Jakarta Post.
“With the rising exclusivism that the Muslim majorities in these two countries are pushing, we may be witnessing the Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia becoming less and less tolerant. In fact, it may already be happening,” added the daily.