Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The use of “Allah’ in Malaysia -Private dialogue a good start

INTERFAITH dialogues -- whether behind closed doors or in an open forum -- are necessary as there are many sharp edges protruding in Malaysia's multi-religious society. Certain groups and individuals, for various reasons, may oppose such consultations. Yet, there are no less others who do prejudge the initiative.

Such dialogues, if properly organised, can help find solutions to touchy issues which religious experts and leaders may not be able to tackle effectively and quickly enough on their own.

Discussions could centre on managing crises between religions. Better still if measures are drawn up that could help reduce tensions if not amicably resolve the conflicts altogether.

The reality is there are not many authorities that aggrieved parties could turn to when it comes to conflict of laws and religious overzeal.

Sweeping problems under the carpet would not help. All we need is for the respective representatives of religious groups to agree on the subject to talk about, lest the forum ends up encroaching on each other's faith.
Delayed actions or reactions, as they turned out to be, have led to untoward incidents like in the case of the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims that saw churches and surau being torched or vandalised.

The controversy around the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims remains a hot issue since the Dec 31 High Court ruling that the Herald has the constitutional right to use the word in its Bahasa Malaysia section.

The court ruling, which affects only the Herald, had been exaggerated by certain quarters as giving licence to all non-Muslims to use the word, it aroused anger of sections of the Muslim community.

Nobody in their sensible mind, regardless of their faith and religious belief, would condone the burning of places of worship. Thank God there were no casualties or injuries in the attacks, just material damage. The authorities too, had acted swiftly and those behind the spate of attacks on churches and surau have not escaped the arms of the law.

But the fact is, the underlying cause of such a violent act and the emotional scars left behind remain unaddressed. Conflicting statements, added by irresponsible comments in the blogsphere continue to fan sentiments.

A private interfaith dialogue therefore is good enough for a start. Perhaps public forums could come later, when Malaysians are confident that such dialogues are well-intentioned and for the good of the country.

The government is keen to resolve the issue of the word "Allah". Interviewed on TV3's Soal Jawab Bersama Perdana Menteri programme on Monday night, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said: "Yes, it is true we try to find a national consensus in whatever issue we face, including the issue of the word 'Allah'.

"We are still making efforts and there are signs that people are appreciative of the government's sincerity in this. They are aware that we are not playing politics."

The MCA also believes that an interfaith dialogue will be good for the country and discussed the idea at its recent presidential council meeting.

The party, said its deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, had been suggesting, even at the state level, there be a forum or a mechanism for an interfaith dialogue "so that any issue related to religion can be discussed with full understanding and without slogans, shouting and high emotions".

Islamic opposition party Pas is also game for interfaith dialogues. Its spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat believes that any form of conflict, perceived or real and religious or social, could be resolved if parties taking an opposing stance could argue with facts and not emotions.

"Bring in your arguments, not parade a cow's head or come armed with your fists," he said recently, where he also reiterated that the use of the word "Allah" was permissible for those following the Abrahamic faiths.

Nik Aziz, who is Kelantan menteri besar, is bringing in together leaders of various faiths in Kota Baru tomorrow to forge an understanding among people of different opinions or beliefs.

There is no harm for the various peoples in the country delving into Islamic, Christian, Hindu and other religious views for the good of the nation through discussion.

Interfaith dialogues are not aimed at conversion but to understand other religious cultures better. By Zubaidah Abu Bakar for the New Straits Times

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