by Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad
There is no denying the fact that the controversial Allah issue has the propensity to causing turbulence, even if some may deem it a non-issue.
Hence to say that the now infamous High Court’s ruling on usage of “Allah” is a potential time bomb threatening the country’s social fabric is indeed an understatement!
When this writer came into the meeting room for the PAS Central Political Bureau in the PAS headquarters in Jalan Raja Laut on Monday night, January 4, that thought haunted him.
Worse still there are many others most willing to jump into the ‘siege-mentality’ bandwagon. Expectedly the ruling had triggered a deluge of Malay-Muslim into angry protestors, mostly perceived as Umno-backed groups. They have threatened to hold mass demonstrations although a stay of execution filed by the Home Ministry has been granted. The 1-Malaysia-PM most irresponsibly and regrettably has consented to that and his Home Minister most willing to be his best lap-dog.
Understandably, this writer’s anxiety in attending the PAS’ Central Political Bureau was beyond description. He was surer of what he didn’t want, as what he wanted has been made known earlier and has somewhat already ruffled feathers in the party.
The calamity that may befall PAS flew in the face. He feared that PAS might joined hands with the rest of the disgruntled to oppose the High Court decision and insisting that Allah is exclusively the God of the Muslims, hence outlawing others its usage.
He feared that PAS will be trapped in the machination of Umno and that would be the end of “PAS for All”. While it is admittedly true that PAS is in acute need of the Malay-Muslims votes all the more now than before, PAS must not succumb to the temptation of appeasing Malay-Muslims constituency merely for votes, much worse, hands in gloves with its political nemesis, Umno. The signs of late, are not to be taken frivolously.
Regardless, he wanted the decision of ‘permissibility of the usage of the name of Allah’ be firstly based on principles and later to be contextualized to the political and social realities of the Malaysian demography ie the plural and mixed make-up of our society.
The writer fully understood that the debate is as acrimonious and as precarious as PAS’ available options. But by God’s grace and guidance, Alhamdulillah, PAS’ stance on the issue is now clear and unequivocal. He surely couldn’t narrate of what really happened in the 3 hours discussion behind closed doors. His only fear now is ‘Could PAS remain Steadfast’ on that stance, come what may.
He now outlines the gist of the consensus. Firstly, to clarify the position of permissibility based on the provision of the Quran and its exegesis and secondly, to contextualize its application given the plural and complex multi-cultural make-up of our society. It essentially addresses an issue or policy of a government from the perspective of maintaining Maslahah Ammah or Public nterest and avoidance of Mafsadah or Disorders and Inconveniences. That to PAS is in the realm of Siyasah Syariah – politics or governance in the framework of the Syariah.
The Quran has in no uncertain terms documented that the community during the advent of the final prophet, Muhammad (may peace be upon him) had similarly used the word ‘Allah’. Allah says in the Holy Quran: “If you ask them, who it is that created the heavens and the earth, they will certainly say, “Allah”. Say: “Praise be to Allah”. But most of them understand not. (Luqman, Chapter 31; Verse 25) .
Theologically (from the perspective of Faith or Aqidah), even though the idol-worshippers of Mecca accepted Allah as Rabb (God), it is only in the domain of Allah as al-Rububiyah or Allah as the Creator and Sustainer. In the complete Islamic faith, Allah is not only the Sustainer and Creator (Tauhid Rububiyah) but as well the Law-Giver and Sovereign (Tauhid Uluhiyah), besides a myriad other attributes only worthy of the Most High. They nonetheless recognized and believed in Allah only as a Sustainer.
More explicitly of the other Abrahamic religions, the mention of the word Allah is seen in the verse in the Chapter of Hajj (Pilgrimage) verse: 40. Allah says: “Had not Allah Check and Balance the aggression and excesses of one set or group of people by means of another, there would surely have been destruction of monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundance….” (Hajj, Chapter 22, verse 40).
From numerous other verses, it is abundantly clear, argued the ulama of exegesis (tafseer-commentary of Al-Quran) that the name of Allah is not an exclusive right of the Muslims. Al-Qurtubi (1214-1273) an expert in exegesis of the Quran, concluded that in verse 40 above, Allah is not only commemorated in mosques but as well in the others places of worship of the Abrahamic faiths namely Christianity and Judaism.
It would be imperative to note of the jurisdiction of two of the most outstanding contemporary scholars in the Muslim world, namely Sheikh Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Sheikh Dr. Wahbah Az- Zuhaili who recently visited Malaysia, concerning this issue. Both were recipients of the award “Tokoh Ma’al Hijrah”, in 1431H and 1429H respectively.
Without any hesitation they concurred unequivocally that the usage of the word Allah has never been the monopoly of the Islamic creed. It is a terminology shared with the adherents of the Abrahamic faith. Islam identifies itself with the People of the Book as the ‘Abrahamic family’ within the Semitic Tradition (Hanifiyyah), the tradition of Abraham who is recognised as the father of the three Semitic religions. The Quran is even more explicit in reminding that Muslims worship the same Almighty Allah recognized by Christians.
The Qur’an commands Muslims to declare that the God they worship and the one worshiped by the followers of revealed books, including Christians, is one: “… and say: “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him do we submit”. (Al-Ankabut, Chapter 29: verse 46).
While it is true that they do not believe in the attributes of Allah as totally prescribed in Islam, the above reminder is nonetheless made by Allah that their God is One and the same. This is despite the fact that Christianity and Judaism are totally different Abrahamic religions in terms of articles of faith and convictions.
Hence, based on Islamic principles, Quranic text and exegesis, the use of the word Allah by the people of the other Abrahamic faiths such as Christianity and Judaism, is permissible. This is PAS stance as pronounced by the President. The answer is in the definitive Yes. It’s truly none issue at all if only we refer to the Quran, as also exemplified by revered Ulama.
Having clarified the principle position of permissibility, the tougher question to address is the application of the principle ie in what and under what circumstances is it permissible, given the complex and plural multi-religio-racial make-up of our Malaysian society.
By the way, the discussion could be equally addressed from the perspective of the Federal Constitution (FC). Firstly, the Article 3(1) of the FC which assures Islam as the official religion of the Federation and other religions can be practiced in peace and harmony amply provides for the case of Catholic Church. Article 11 (1) equally provides for fundamental right of all religion to profess and practice religion of their choice. In the propagation of the religion of the Catholic Christians, they are limited by the provision of Article 11 (4), which prohibits the propagation of Christianity to Muslims and Article 11 (5) which stipulates that the public order must be maintained.
The Catholic Herald has reassured Malaysians that the Church was not on any campaign to convert Muslims as emphasised by father Lawrence Andrew. “There are allegations we’re trying to convert Muslims. “We’re not doing that”, he told the Malaysian Insider. In this regard, PAS has again stressed the usage of Allah must not be misused or abused or it will affect racial and religious harmony in the country.
“As a responsible Islamic body, PAS is ready to explain this issue to all parties in order to ensure a harmonious environment that is based on the principles of fairness such as is guaranteed in the constitution and by Islam itself,” PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang said in a statement issued after a three-hour long discussion.
Incidentally, the former Mufti of Perlis has also stressed on the need to have clear guidelines. He said that the word ‘Allah’ could only be used to refer to the one true God and not to be ascribed to stones and idols. PAS President has also called on all parties not to politicise the matter as this could threaten the peace among the different religious groups in the country.
PAS strongly objects to any aggressive and provocative approach that can lead to tension in society. By advocating a solution of dialogue and discourse, PAS has presented herself as an Islamist party that understands the need of a plural politics in the new landscape of national politics. This is very reassuring and consoling.
To cite Tengku Razaleigh, “In a milestone moment, PAS, the Islamic party, is holding onto the more plural and moderate position while Umno is digging itself into an intolerant hard-line position that has no parallel that I know of in the Muslim world”.
The writer now concurs with the Tengku that Umno will be spurred to more desperate attempts at fanning both narrow religious and parochial racial sentiments. The spate of arson attack on churches in the Klang Valley after midnight on Thursday came as a little surprise to those anticipating such heinous cowardice actions would eventually come as to vindicate invocation of Article 11(5) of the FC by the Appeal Court. Yes, we are turning fast into Zimbabwe’s lawlessness.
PAS must hold on to its Islamic principles to stand for ‘Justice for All’ and now fight to defend the sanctity of places of worship as demanded in the above quoted Chapter of Pilgrimage (Al-Hajj), verse 40.
Rather than championing the exclusive usage of the name of Allah for Malay-Muslims, PAS together with her Pakatan component parties must wage an all out attack on Umno on the narrow racial approach of Malay Hegemony, perversion of power, the spread of corruption, the plunder of the nation’s wealth and the repression of the people’s rights, which are all in total contradiction with and diametrically opposed to Islam.
PAS is on the right political trajectory as for now but judging by the intense challenges many would like to ask, “could PAS remain steadfast”?
Allah knows best and only time will tell. Frankly, is there is a choice?