By BOB TEOH
It doesn't really matter how the Federal Court will decide on whether non-Muslims, particularly Christians, are allowed to use the word 'Allah' to refer to God. The Home Ministry and the Islamic establishment have already decided the word is exclusive to Muslims. Period.
It makes no difference either to Bumiputera Christians who account for two thirds of the Christian population of two million in the country.
Their Malay language Bible – the Alkitab- uses the word 'Allah' to refer to God. This is the only Bible they have so come what may, they will continue to use their Alkitab which contains this troublesome word. That's their Holy Scripture, their heritage. No court judgement can alter this fact.
The court of public opinion has already made its decision on this issue. There's even a call to burn the Alkitab. Yet all this is beyond sub-judice and contempt of court. Christians too have been making vigorous defence of their right to use this word.
Under these circumstances, the hands of the Federal Court are tied. It is inconceivable it can arrive at any substantive decision. Even if the apex court of the country can make sense out of the usage of this word, there are more than thirty other words decided by fatwas of the respective states that non-Muslims cannot use. Compounding the dilemma is the fact that fatwas are Islamic edicts. They cannot be applied to non-Muslims. There are, of course, sharply differing opinions on this.
For instance, on 11 Dec 2003 the Sabah Mufti made and published a fatwa in the State Gazette prohibiting non-Muslims from using 32 words in Bahasa Malaysia in their teaching and in the propagation of their belief. Some of those words are Allah, Firman Allah (Word of God), Wahyu (Revelation), Iman (Faith), Rasul (Apostle, Messenger), Nabi (Prophet), and Injil (Gospel).
Eighteen days later various government authorities entered and seized several titles in a Christian bookshop. The reason for seizure was that the books contained the word "Allah."
Let's not pretend. We are all in deeper trouble than we care to admit. But living in denial is not going to solve the problem. One option is for the government to withdraw its appeal against the High Court judgement which in effect allows Christian to continue using the word 'Allah' to refer to God. It's time for reconciliation. Christians have said it often enough that they are willing to resolve the matter in any other amicable manner even at this late stage. With goodwill and political will on both sides there's no reason why a genuine solution cannot be found even though it's very tough and time consuming.
Meanwhile, rabble rousers should pipe down to allow parties to resolve the issue by reason and persuasion. After all both the Qur'an and Bible call upon their adherents to be of a gentle disposition when propagating their respective faiths.
This acrimonious situation has gone on for long enough. We simply can't afford to allow emotions to run high much higher and much longer. We owe this to our future generations.
'Allah' is more than just a word. It's an opportunity for a pilgrimage to reconciliation among believers of the one true God.