(Corrected at 4:38pm, 12 Jan 2010)
KUALA LUMPUR, 12 Jan 2010: Malaysians are mature enough to openly discuss issues without resorting to violence, said the organiser of an 11 Jan 2010 public forum on the “Allah” issue.
Despite being told by police to cancel last night’s forum following the spate of attacks on churches, the event organisers decided to go ahead with the public discussion.
“We were sure that the forum would be a means to encourage discussion and there would be no provocation or violence, so we decided to go ahead and make it a success,” Free Public Forum coordinator Shake Omar Ali told The Nut Graph.
The forum, titled ‘Allah’: Siapa yang punya?, was co-organised by Free Public Forum, (corrected) Persatuan Mahasiswa Islam Universiti Malaya, and the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) Youth.
“We did get a bit of police pressure,” said Shake Omar. “The police said the programme should be stopped because it would stir up racial and religious problems and sentiment.”
Audience members commenting and asking questions during the forum
However, Shake Omar said he was convinced based on past experience that Malaysians would be rational and mature enough when discussing controversial issues.
“This is the third forum we have organised. The first was on Islam and democracy, and the second was on [the whipping sentence] of Kartika [Sari Dewi Shukarno]. Both were also like this forum: calm, with different opinions shared. For example, on Kartika, we invited the Islamists as well as Sisters in Islam to share their view,” he said.
Debating the “Allah” issue
The four-hour long forum last night at the KLSCAH was attended by approximately 900 people. The event proceeded calmly despite the divergent arguments that were presented.
“‘Allah’ is a specific name, not a general name for God,” said Dr Khalif Muammar, a fellow from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)’s Institute of the Malay World and Civilisation. “The word ‘Allah’ has been Islamicised since God’s revelation to Prophet Muhammad.”
Mohd Farid Dr Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran, a Department of Usul al-Din and Comparative Religion lecturer from the International Islamic University Malaysia agreed. “The question is not whether non-Muslims can use ‘Allah’,” he said. “The question is, is it appropriate and good for them to do so? ‘Allah’ has been accepted by Malay [Malaysians] and has an established meaning … [It] has been used [by Muslims] since the time of the Prophet Muhammad.”
“Should the English word ‘God’ be translated as ‘Allah’ in Bahasa Malaysia?” said Muslim evangelist Shah Kirit Kakulal Govindji. “Don’t Christians understand what ‘Tuhan’ means?”
Other speakers, however, disagreed and said there was no restriction in the Qur’an or Hadith on the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims.
“There is nothing that states that the word ‘Allah’ is exclusive to Islam,” said Dr Azwira Abdul Aziz, an Islamic lecturer from UKM’s Faculty of Islamic Studies. “This issue has not even been debated in the Islamic world. It’s almost as if it has been so clearly understood until it does not need to be mentioned.”
Azwira added that it was wrong to say that “Allah” should be exclusive to Islam in Malaysia just because it was accepted as the norm by Muslims.
Azwira “Setiap perkara bermula dengan tidak biasa. Bila dah biasa, hilang bisanya,” Azwira said.
He cited the example of the Yang-di-Pertuan Agong being called “Yang Maha Mulia”, which is a term used for God. “Malay [Malaysians] can differentiate between Yang Maha Mulia Raja and Yang Maha Mulia Allah. This is because they have accepted it as normal.”
“It is not the word ‘Allah’ that differentiates Muslims from non-Muslims,” said Khalid Samad, PAS Member of Parliament. “It is the understanding of who Allah is and his traits.”
Writer Hasmi Hashim read from the writings of Malay literature legend Munshi Abdullah, who used “Allah” to mean “God” when he translated the Bible into Malay 150 years ago.
Shake Omar said he was satisfied with the forum and hoped to organise more of such discussions to advocate diversity and celebrate plurality.
For related stories, see In the Spotlight: Political Islam