The Malay Mail Online
January 12, 2014
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 12 — The religious tussle over “Allah” that threatens to rend apart Malaysia’s interfaith ties is a contrived issue, according to observers who pinpointed political motives for fomenting communal friction over the Arabic word for God.
Despite appearing to be theologically different to outside observers, chief executive of Global Movement for Moderates (GMM) Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah saw right-wing groups that were cultivating a mentality that Islam was “under siege” as the root of the “Allah” problem that is unique to Malaysia.
“Some sectors of the Malay population, they are acting as if Islam is under siege,” he said when appearing on Al-Jazeera’s The Stream news programme this week.
But his remark led host Femi Oke to prod him for examples of how the perceived siege on Islam was propagated.
“When people make the pronouncements that we should burn the bible if it is translated to Malay… or something like that,” he responded.
Although Saifuddin did not identify the group by name, president of Malay rights group Perkasa Datuk Ibrahim Ali made such a call in January last year, drawing outrage from Christian and civil society groups.
But another speaker on the programme, journalist Kean Wong, suggested that it was a confrontation that was manufactured due to ruling Malay party Umno coming under siege, rather than Islam, as is widely perceived.
“Since last May’s relatively poor outing by Umno and its ruling coalition, there have been a whole series of incidents which — some may allege — is trying to distract from the very real problems of political and economic reforms that are not being addressed over the dramatic thunder and fury of the ‘Allah’ saga,” Wong said.
The journalist later expanded on this by pointing to lingering questions over the legitimacy of Barisan Nasional’s Election 2013 victory over Pakatan Rakyat despite the loss of the popular vote.
Wong’s assertion prompted Saifuddin to concede to the existence of sections within Umno who believe that shoring up support among Malay voters was the best strategy to ensure the party’s political survival.
“I don’t deny the fact there are my friends in the party who thought that the way forward for the next GE is to secure the Malay and Muslim votes.
“If Umno and Barisan is of the opinion they can win the next election by doing this, I think we are on the wrong track,” the former deputy minister of higher education added.
During Election 2013, Umno saw its share of parliamentary seats rise from 79 to 88, even as nearly all its BN allies lost ground. The result also led to calls from within the party to concentrate efforts on the Malay vote that propelled it to dominance.
Simmering tension over the “Allah” tussle boiled over at the start of the new year when the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) raided the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) and seized over 300 copies of Malay- and Iban-language bibles; two BSM officials were also arrested.
But the contentious raid was also preceded by mounting public anger over the rising cost of living that was partly blamed on Putrajaya’s painful measures to trim its chronic deficit, which culminated in a mass rally on New Year’s Eve here to protest the subsidy cuts and prices hikes approved by the government.
Since October, Christian-Muslims ties have been strained following the Court of Appeal ruling then barring “Allah” to Catholic Church, during which it also ventured that the word was not integral to the Christian faith.
The current “Allah” row dates back to a 2009 High Court ruling upholding the Catholic Church’s constitutional right to publish the word in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its Herald weekly, but has its roots in laws from the 1980s limiting the non-Muslim use of the Arabic term.
The ongoing legal dispute between the government and the Catholic Church over its right to print the word “Allah” in the Herald’s Bahasa Malaysia section is still pending before the Federal Court, which is set to hear arguments from both sides on February 24 before deciding on whether it will hear an appeal by the Catholic Church.
Muslims are Malaysia’s dominant religious group and account for over 60 per cent of the population, while Christians make up about 10 per cent or 2.6 million.