This Arabic and pre-Islamic word used for some specific meanings of God as the Almighty, has arisen to become the centre of a “manufactured” inter-religious controversy in Malaysia.
In the entire Arab world, all Christians use the Allah word in defined specific contexts and it has a different meaning from the Malay word for ‘Tuhan’. In Indonesia, Christians also use the word Allah for God as well, and both Sabahan and Sarawakian bumiputera Christians have used the same word for God since about 100 years ago, based on their Indonesian translations of the word.

Only in Kampung Malaysia and under our ‘katak dibawah tempurung syndrome’ is this Arabic and pre-Islamic word a unique word and reserved only for Malay Muslims.  I suppose, in the future, maybe even Shiite Muslims cannot use the word because they are not considered “legitimate-enough Muslims” by the arguments of the so-called minister for the Muslim religion.

Of course we cannot also forget the Sikhs who have always used this word for their concept of God.

A manufactured controversy?

I am from Kedah, and grew up my early years singing our state anthem with the explicit use of the word ‘Allah’. Nobody objected and nobody cared. Even the royalty only reaped the benefits of the “blessing we prayed for them”. Even they did not either complain or protest. 

So, why is there the “sudden realisation and consciousness of this God-word?” And why the need to debate the accurate anthropomorphisation of this God-word?  

This has never been an issue even in the Arab world, or even in the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia.  

I believe that it is a “manufactured controversy” and it always plays its head in anticipation of the Umno general assembly. Suddenly, the new MB and son of a former prime minister whose family has shares in a Philippine beer company, becomes very bold and “declares the word ‘haram’” in Kedah; when the High Court has already given an explicit  decision on this matter and its use, and even if it is currently under appeal by the federal government.
Why is Mukhriz Mahathir (left) suddenly bolder than even the former PAS menteri besar of Kedah?

All this is “an Umno-style manufactured controversy” to my mind, and it is part and parcel of the “wayang kulit” as a build up to the Umno AGM.  It is obvious that someone is going to challenge Najib Abdul Razak for the presidency. The ground is being clearly laid now.  Even Kuala Besut is being fought with the Umno AGM in mind; why else did Khairy Jamaluddin (KJ) warn that Najib is 
the ultimate loser if BN loses there?

For many years now, since the 1981 abuse of the judiciary, there has been a systematic but carefully crafted attempt to slowly but surely raise Islam’s stature in Malaysia, from a “states-only religion and Schedule II faith” to become “the official religion of the federation.”

Islam is not the official religion of this federation we call Malaysia. I was taught this by none other than the late Professor Ahmad Ibrahim and he always went to great lengths to explain why the drafters of the federal constitution did not use the word “official” but simply referred to it as the religion of the federation.

His reasons were as follows:
  • ‘Official’ would make it by law the religion of the whole federation, but Sabah and Sarawak had explicit agreements that Islam would not be enforced there with the same quality of priority as per the nine states of peninsular Malaya;
  • ‘Official’ would make other religions second class religions when they were already being preserved as legitimate faiths of practice and provided for under the federal constitution; and
  • There was never intent to make Islam the “formal and supreme religion of Malaysia” as if it would be in an Islamic state. The sultans of the nine states were heads of religion in those states.  There was always design intent to keep the nation-state as a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious nation state, even after the formation of Malaysia. Moreover, the federal constitution is the supreme law of this nation-state.
CFM’s Press Release

Last Saturday, the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) issued a press release which was a first of its kind, as far as I know.

The CFM encompasses all Christians in Malaysia.  Official figures state that there are only 9.1 percent Christians in Malaysia. My estimate is that there are about 10 percent, because many of the newer believers are usually undercounted.

Furthermore, if I am not mistaken, there are about 20 percent Christian representatives in Parliament; from all parties of the peoples’ of Malaysia. Therefore, maybe, Christians in Malaysia may have a larger punching power than what appears on the surface.
Therefore, I find it rather amusing that none of the mainstream papers carried the CFM’s press release of last Saturday. The statement had for its headlines, and carried these paragraphs:

Christians appalled by statements of MB and minister
The Christian community is appalled by the recent statements reportedly made by the mentri besar of Kedah and the minister of urban well-being, housing and local government on the issue of the use of the word ‘Allah’ in the Al-Kitab.

Both statements are untenable and in flagrant disregard of the 10-point solution decided by the federal cabinet in April 2011. These 10 points were specifically communicated to the Christian Federation of Malaysia in a letter dated April 11, 2011 from the prime minister himself. (The copy of the letter is attached).

The press release was signed by Rev Dr Eu Hong Seng, as chairperson, and for the executive committee of all CFM members.

So that this representative fact is not misunderstood, let me explicitly state that the federation of all Christian communities of Malaysia also includes all Catholics, all Protestants Churches, and all autonomous Evangelical Churches of Malaysia. In short, it represents all 10 percent of Christians of Malaysia.

Media and Ethics
The primary job of all media, I would have thought, is to report truth of matters. But, that none of the mainstream media reported this statement of CFM is very telling indeed. Actually, as far as I can see, all Internet media did carry the statement, and some mainstream media did so only in their Internet medium for the Sunday edition, but not in their printed version. Whither media ethics in Malaysia today?

KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at with any feedback or views.

~ Malaysiakini