NEWS ANALYSIS BY THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER
December 26, 2013
Faith in Malaysia has become a trickier issue in the past few years, first with the authorities insisting that the word Allah is exclusive to Muslims, and finally that Muslims must be Sunni, and not Shia.
The preoccupation with faith and the policing of it is perplexing to say the least when it has never been a bone of contention for the most part of the country’s independence. If anything, the economy and the salaryman’s pay packet has always been a greater issue.
But the usually taciturn Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak finally broke his silence on Christmas Day to speak about Islam and Christianity amid the Government’s battle to keep the Arabic word Allah only for Muslims.
He spoke of common origins for both religions and called for mutual respect, saying “Although in terms of faith, we have our differences, for example, the concept of God. In Islam the concept of God is quite different.
“But if we are always quarrelling on this, then we will be distancing the Muslims from the Christians.”
He is right, of course. Except that it has been the Government that has been quarrelling about this and finally coming up with its Solomon-like ruling that Christians in Sabah and Sarawak can use Allah but not in the peninsula.
Perhaps, the Kuala Lumpur Catholic Church Archbishop emeritus Murphy Pakiam put it succinctly when he said yesterday, “What did he say? Even if the world talks and laughs about this ‘Allah’ issue, Malaysia will not allow (its use by non-Muslims), we (Government) will defend the exclusivity of its use.
“This is not a man who was educated in our Catholic school. By talking like that, you are just a bickering politician. I am praying that Allah will enlighten him to become a statesman.”
The Government’s directive to the Church’s weekly, Herald, to refrain from using the word in its Bahasa edition has been the subject of a court case that saw a 2009 High Court decision to allow the usage, only for the Court of Appeal to overturn the ruling last October.
The latest ruling and Putrajaya’s opposition to a new appeal has caused outrage among the country’s Christian community, particularly those who worship in Bahasa. Christians form 9% of Malaysia’s 29 million population.
“You think I am not angry? But he is the prime minister, so I have to pray to God to please help him do his duty for the whole country and not just Umno,” Pakiam said at the Christian Federation’s Christmas Day celebrations where a minister represented Najib.
The anger is palpable for Christians who feel the prime minister has pretended to be moderate and reasonable on a world stage, but is nothing like that when he returns to government business in Malaysia, pandering to the Malay far right, which seeks economic and religious dominance.
But at least the likes of Malay rights group Perkasa president Datuk Ibrahim Ali and controversial lecturer Dr Ridhuan Tee Abdullah are straight about their aims.
With the two of them, it is what you see is what you get. They do not pretend to be champions of multiracial politics, unlike the prime minister and politicians from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).
This includes the Christians who choose to remain as ministers, deputy ministers and MPs in the Najib administration – while making polite noises to their community but remain silent in government – being just grateful that there is some financial aid or extra holidays for the festivities.
As DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang said today, Najib has to prove he is a moderate by deed and conviction and not be a political chameleon who alternates between moderation and immoderation in his speeches, depending on the crowd and occasion.
The thing is, Najib and BN have constantly hammered Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for being a political chameleon. But the reality is this: Anwar and many Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders are secure in their faith as Muslims, and have not played politics on the Allah issue.
In the run-up to the election, Anwar supported the right of Christians to continue using the word Allah, stumping Terengganu and other Malay-belt states.
The same cannot be said for Najib and his ministers who have been chameleon like in their dealings with other communities, especially on religious issues. The Shia are now feeling the heat although Malaysia has cordial ties with Iran, the world’s most populous Shia nation.
If anything, the only Malaysian prime minister with religious credentials has been Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, although it was under his time that Putrajaya began enforcing the exclusivity of Allah for Muslims.
Yet, he was also the man who signed the Amman Message that agreed Sunni and Shia are legitimate branches of the faith.
For Putrajaya however, politics come first rather than interfaith harmony even if the prime minister did say, “I had mentioned before that I am not interested in winning an argument. I’m only concerned about preserving peace, harmony and stability in this country. This is my responsibility as Malaysia’s prime minister.”
That peace, harmony and stability means he needs to keep his vote bank happy. With the next election years away, he and BN have dropped their act of being good to every community, focusing only on one.
After all, the Allah appeal was only decided after the general election. And in time, perhaps people will forget that, and even forget prices only rose after the polls.
But there is no reason to despair.
Just understand that this man is just a politician, not a leader or statesman.
Just another politician. And they all come and go. Right? – December 26, 2013.