Dr Azly Rahman | 6:00PM Jan 11, 2014
What we are seeing in Malaysia these days is a path towards destruction unfolding as a red carpet of a Hollywood show of a movie called ‘Wolves of Putrajaya’. We are seeing hell freezing over – of our own American polar vortex of the failure of our educational, cultural, and political system to mediate dangerous contradictions which may bring us down, tsunamied by the acts of those paid to search and destroy this imagined community of peace-loving Malaysians.
Borrowing a Socrates maxim, at the core of the issue is ignorance and the will to be stubborn to remain ignorant.
We need a multi-culturalist, multi-vocalic, multi-accepting, and multi-diverse brand of liberal democracy to save us. We need the entire nation to embrace what many are fearful of: liberalism. Liberalism will remove the glass coconut shell that has become a comfort zone, especially for the Malays and particularly of the Malay Muslims.
Liberalism might be the long-awaited cure for this neo-feudalistic malady called ‘malaise-ness’ that hath plagued the Malays since they were enslaved first as ‘hamba sahaya’, by their own rulers of ancient times.
In speaking of seeking knowledge and in trumpeting Islam as a religion of high learning, progressiveness, and democracy that upholds the principles of human rights, Muslims in Malaysia too often quote the words of the first revelation, ‘Iqra’, ‘Read’, or “read in the name of Thy Lord who created thee… who created thee from a clot” as a signature of religious advocacy par excellence.
*Notice that the word ‘Rabb’ or ‘Creator’ or ‘the Lord’ is used in the translation and not the world ‘Allah’ in the first revelation ‘Iqra’. Maybe the concept of ‘Allah’ is a later formulation borne out of a philosophical quest to construct the meaning of god in Islam. Perhaps the idea of ‘Allah’ was already there in the texts of the Jews, Christians, and the Sabeans and the later Muslims had to invent a philosophically distinct one.*
Not to be off-tangent on the topic of ‘reading’ nor to go into the scriptural-historical debate whether the Quran (The Readings/Book of Recitation) is revealed or actually a set of narratives inspired by the stories heard by Muhammad from the Jews, Christians, and Sabeans in his soul-seeking and knowledge constructing days; verses heard and committed to memory and then compiled later by his companions – that is not the matter of discussion here.
A time of utter ridiculousness
The question is on ‘reading’ or the ‘Iqra-ness’ of the cognition of especially the Malay-Muslims at a time that tries one’s soul these days and certainly a time of ‘malaise-ness’ and utter ridiculousness when one is threatened to be prosecuted and imprisoned without trial for uttering the world ‘Allah’ – or ‘the God’, or ‘the Rabb’, or ‘Thy Lord’ in one’s sermon conducted in a different geographical of gerry-mandered region.
As if god, supposedly the limitless and the boundless and bound by nothingness, now suddenly has boundaries drawn by human beings whose idiocy know no limits.
And now there is a war not only on the word ‘Allah’, but on ‘liberalism’ without understanding what “being a liberal”, “humanism”, “freedom to think”, “expanded consciousness” and other forms of denotations and connotations of “reading and thinking and speaking and contemplating freely” mean.
Largely, besides the money spent on manufacturing chaos and consent and confusion in order to produce and propagate Malaysia’s penultimate idiocy in the case of the ‘Allah’ controversy at a time of massive corruption and national piracy, plutocracy, and economic plunder-acy under the shibboleth of the much-trumpeted niceties of constitutional monarchy…
Besides this crisis of legitimacy, we have a problem of a populace not reading enough to understand even the idea of a cure for ‘malaise-ness’ such as ‘liberalism’ as a potentially good legal hashish for the hard-headed and articulately arrogant addicts of political money.
Let us illustrate how a liberal mind would approach the linguistic problematique of the use of the word ‘Allah’.
I wonder where I should start – with etymology, philology, or linguistic philosophy as my lens?
Should I start by analysing the pre-Muhammadan origin of it in the early Babylonian use of ‘Allah’ which corresponds to the god ‘Bel’, or the Hebrew use of ‘Elohim’. Or the Aramaic use of ‘elohi’, or the pagan Arab god ‘al-Lat’ or the relationship between the sister moon-god, or even ‘Allah’ as commonly used even before Muhammad was born (as we know Muhammad’s father is Abd-allah?
Abdullah/Abdillah or ‘the servant of Allah’ to signify the widely used term and not exclusive as how the Muslims, especially the Malay Muslims would like it to be used, patented, and even claimed territoriality?
Islam is a religion of knowledge as claimed, and Muslims must be open to those perspectives excavated; there is something called research, even in the origin of the word “god” as it is said in the Islamic scripture:
“Read in the name of thy Lord who created thee … created thee from a clot … and taught thee with a pen/kalam … which does not mean … just follow blindly in the name of ignorance that is passed down to thee … from your ancestors … passed down from those who hunger for power/knowledge … and taught thee to accept everything as truth as decree shoved down your throat forcefully…”
‘Come back to our senses’
Malaysians: let us come back to our senses. Instead of running amok all over towns and villages over the word, why don’t Malay Muslims begin by simply analysing the meaning of the word in its entirety and then figure out how human beings are taught by the ‘kalam’ and to think of wherein lie the form and appearance in the doctrine of the ‘kalam’.
This would probably have nobody running around for a year at least, studying something simple yet profound.
I don’t know, let us be fair to our two-pound universe sitting on our shoulders and refrain from calling for ‘jihad’ for everything one disagrees with. And our role as human beings is to expand our consciousness by enriching ourselves with more words and concepts across cultures, across lifespans – not to ban words used to signify religiosity and become a world-class laughing stock of a nation.
Christians in Malaysia should be allowed to use the word ‘Allah’ however they please, as they see religiously meaningful.
I have argued for this in my previous columns and we should move forward to discussing more pressing issues of, say, the preparation for a regime change so that Malaysians can thenafter begin charting frontiers for a more intellectual approach to inter-religious dialogue. As it is now, there is no demonstration of knowledge of the cross-breeding, hybridity, and universal agreement even on the use of to denote and connote the self in relation to a much larger Self.
Fellow Malaysians: what do you think? How do you think we should proceed – towards a peaceful resolution? With calls for the revival of the Internal Security Act, more threats against the ‘unconstitutional’ use of the word ‘Allah’, more of these nonsense instead of our focus on solving pressing problems… I think we need to end this malaise by cleansing ourselves with the progressive ideas of liberalism.
But first, we must lift our veil of ignorance. Let us explore the possibilities of enlightenment and renaissance of cultural cognition, through liberalism.
Let us cure this ‘malaise-ness’ once and for all.
DR AZLY RAHMAN, born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in four areas: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 350 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He has edited and authored four books; Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present, Future (2009), Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast Asian State (2012), The Allah Controversy and Other Essays on Malaysian Hypermodernity (2013), and the latest Dark Spring: Ideological Roots of Malaysia’s GE-13 (2013). He currently resides in the United States. Twitter, blog.