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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

PAS’ Ulama ‘Disunited’ Stance on ‘Allah’ – 2 sides of the same coin?

By Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, Member of the Central Working Committee of PAS.

I have been asked to explain and rationalise, why there are 2 seemingly opposing positions or 2 schools of thought, taken by PAS’ top ulama leaders. It is no small feat and I have never been more uncomfortable.

Tok Guru Dato’ Nik Aziz (TGNA) the Mursyidul Am of PAS and the President of PAS DS Hj  Abdul Hadi Awang (DSHA) present the proponent for ‘permssibility’ of the usage of the name of Allah by adherents of other faiths namely the Abrahamic religions (Chriatianity and Judaism), while Dato Dr Harun Din (DDHD), as the Deputy Mursyidul Am of the Majlis Syura Ulama ( and incidentally a number of Muslim NGOs and some academics), taking an opposite stance ie making it not permissible to be used by others.
My position on this issue remains as briefly expressed in recent articles that I’ve written, one in BM entitled “Allah Untuk Semua” and the other “Can PAS remain steadfast?” My latest is an Open letter to the “Mr 1-Malaysia-Prime Minister” venting my frustration to the many unending crises of the nation. They are all in my weblog ( and elsewhere in cyber and print media.
I wanted to write this piece earlier but was willing to wait and read from others especially those religiously-trained ulama. As it is not so forthcoming, I now grudgingly pen this piece, after being requested to do so.
For brevity and serving the interest of my lay brethren and also friends of other faiths, I’m simplifying many complicated theological discourses. Sorry, I can’t avoid using some Arabic terminologies. Perhaps it is a good exposure to some.
Simply put, the opposing stance has come to be arrived because both ‘schools’ have taken to treat the subject from a different methodological approach, premised on two different perspectives. Little wonder of the apparently diverging conclusions.
More interestingly, despite seemingly diverging stance and consequences, they are both within the Islamic worldview and to a large extent ‘right’ in their own perspectives. If that is mind-boggling or baffling enough for a start, let us make it simpler by using the analogy of describing ‘two sides of the same coin’. I’m trying to be fair and objective.
The images of the ‘head’ and ‘tail’ of the coin is surely different, but it is describing the same coin, nonetheless. You don’t have to spill blood on that debate of establishing which side is right or more important. It is not about the right or wrong position, but the appropriate one ie of determining which is the relevant and pertinent position or perspective to take, given a certain context of space and time.
For simplicity, Islam as ad-Deen or A Way of Life is premised on two main pillars:
1. Aqidah – theological matters pertaining to Faith and Conviction in Allah (and other articles of Faith eg Prophethood, Revelation etc) and
2. Ibadah – matters pertaining to worships ie relationship of man with the Almighty Allah.
Both pillars being the main thrusts of the Dakwah or ar-Risalah (the Message) of the all Prophets and as well of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Dakwah is the raison deter or ‘reason of being’ of all prophets and indeed of Prophethood (Nubuwah).
If the above assertions are understood, we could now proceed in understanding both arguments.
Dato’ Haron Din (DHD) argues from the perspective of Aqidah, while both Tok Gurus have taken a perspective of Dakwah (and the bigger domain of Siyasah Syar’iah – Politics from the prism of Syariah), notwithstanding the importance of the earlier.
From the discipline of Islamic Aqidah (Usuludin), Allah is a specific name of Al-Ilah or The God (Lafzul Jalalah), with the 3 aspects of ‘Unity of the Godhead’ namely: of being the Creator and Sustainer (Tauhid Rububiyah) and the Law-Giver (Tauhid Uluhiyah).Besides, there are 20 Attributes (Sifat – Al-Wujud, Al-Baqa’, Al-Wahdaniyah etc) of Allah enshrined in many verses of the Quran and 99 Names (Asma’ – like Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim, Al-Malik, Al-Quddus etc) describing these attributes (Tauhid Asma’ wa Sifat).
The verses in the Surah (Chapter) of Al-Ikhlas (Purity) exemplified the Uniqueness of the Oneness of Allah. Allah says in Al-Ikhlas (verse 1-4):
“Say: He is Allah, The One,
Allah, the Eternal, the Absolute,
He begets not, Nor is He begotten,
And there is none, Like unto Him”.
Based on the above deliberation, it would be safe to conclude that Islam places as cardinal principle the Unity of Allah (Monotheism) that none of the creations is like unto him. Ever since men, from time immemorial since Adam (may peace be upon him), committed the various sins of ascribing partners, in the forms of gods, lords or even sons unto Him, prophets were sent to purify the belief of Unity of Godhead.
The discipline of Usuludin is a particular branch of the Islamic thought that serves the objective of maintaining purity and soundness of faith in the Unity of Godhead (Tauhid-Monotheism) and the other articles of faith. Within the community of believers (Ummah), a profound knowledge of Usuludin is regarded desirable and commendable as it is a safeguard against deviationist beliefs and practices.
Up to this juncture, the argument for an emphasis of studying Usuludin particularly the various aspects of Aqidah, including the names and attributes of Allah is both convincing and cogent.
Entrenched in this methodology, it logically follows that the name of Allah is concluded and perceived as belonging exclusively to the believers of the Islamic Faith. As it is only Muslims and Muslims alone that subscribe and profess the faith and conviction in Allah as Al-Ilah or The God, only Muslims are deemed deserving and worthy of using the name of ‘ALLAH”, much as it is also a Lafzul Jalalah, a special or specific name (nama khusus) of Allah besides the 99 names as mentioned above.
It is going forward from juncture that the aberration begins to show up. From the perspective of this school of thought, the usage is not only disallowed by others, but now seems sure that it must be outlawed by an enactment of laws of the state.
As the word is allegedly sacred or sacrosanct in Islam, it couldn’t be possibly used by others. Similarly ‘sacred’ or ‘holy’ words like Kaabah, Syariat, Mufti, Ulama, etc, have also now been outlawed and made exclusively for Muslims in some states in the Federation. That has become the bone of contention. The assault on reason seems more pronounced in a world of information and knowledge.
Coupled with the fear of misuse, abuse and threats of Christian proselytizing on Muslims, the outlawing of the use of the name of Allah becomes a logical progression. A perusal of the edict or fatwa of the National Fatwa Council in May 2008 depicted these underpinning and overarching reasons. The case of the banning by the Home Ministry of the name of Allah in the Malay edition of Catholic Church Herald weekly has now occupy centre-stage national controversy.
Let us peruse the position taken by the Central Working Committee of PAS ie that of TGNA and DSHA, insofar as the usage of the name of Allah vis-à-vis the bigger mission of Dakwah of the Prophet Muhammad– spanning across 13 years in Mecca and 10 years in Medina.
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,  verse 25). Similar verses could be quoted from the Chapter of Al-Ankabut:  verse 65.
Theologically, the idol-worshippers of Mecca even as they accepted Allah as Rabb (God), ascribed idols and others as gods. The reason for this polytheistic practice is clarified in the Quran in the Chapter of az-Zumar (The Groups) verse 3. “We only serve them (other deities) in order that they may bring us nearer to Allah”. They nonetheless accepted Allah as the Sustainer and Creator.
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-commentaries of the Holy 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 not only endorsed it as permissible but indeed commendable as a mean to unite the Brotherhood of Humanity, though not of the Brotherhood of Faith. It is the best opportunity for us to prove that Islam and religion per se should unite and not divide us.
Again, very clearly the permissibility of the usage of ‘Allah’ is enshrined in the Quran. That should supersede other arguments of Islamic Legal maxims as they are subservient to and couldn’t override the provision of the Quran texts and Prophetic tradition (in the methodology of Al-Istidlal).
More importantly, it must be always reminded that the entire Quran is in fact an embodiment of the Dakwah and the Risalah of the Prophet Muhammad in the effort to establish the true meaning of “Islam as a Mercy to Mankind” – Rahmatan Lil ‘Alamin.
Quite evidently, the thought of DDHD et al results in exclusivity and disengagement while the latter stresses on the need of Islam and Islamists to be ‘inclusive’ and ‘engaged’ in the bigger agenda of Islamic Dakwah and Islamic Political Advocacy.  Engaging rather than disengaging, should be the overarching consideration of policy-makers in legislative and think-tanking position of Islamist institutions.
While the approach of Usuludin emphasises the importance of purity of faith within the Muslim Ummah, very unfortunately it unconsciously assumes a ‘siege mentality’ when it relates to others.
It invariably reduces Islam and namely ‘Allah’ together with other ‘sacred’ words, into an exclusive right of Muslims and must be protected from any intrusion from adherents of other faiths. You simply couldn’t engage when you are ‘exclusive’. On the contrary, you in fact marginalise hence alienate others.
Much as it breeds contempt, it also serves as convenient fodders for distrust between religions, a situation totally contrary to the supreme purpose of Dakwah and ar-Risalah. It many sense, it has become untenable and ludicrous.
The position of TGNA and DSHA, representing the mainstream PAS has made it categorically clear that ‘based on the Quran and the Islamic principles, the use of the word Allah by the people of the Abrahamic faiths such as Christianity and Judaism, is acceptable.
In this regard, both have again emphasised the usage of Allah must not be misused or abused or it will affect racial and religious harmony in the country. 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.
DSHA has also objected to politicising the emotive issue as this could threaten the peace among the different religious groups in the country. PAS now strongly condemns the act of intimidation and violence as a mean of cowing down the citizenry to passively submit to a new form of ‘gang-sponsored terrorism’. Very positively, both TGNA and DSHA advocated a solution of dialogue and discourse as the basis of enhancing mutual respect and understanding between religions and cultures in nation rebuilding.
In all fairness, it must be said that PAS has finally out of age to present herself as an Islamist party that understands the need of a plural politics in the new democratic landscape of national politics.
It must be equaly said that this position hasn’t been taken simply to appease and to win more votes from the non-Muslims constituencies. We in fact risk marginalising our core Islamist supporters from our stronghold Malay belt. Could our political nemesis, Umno stand up to say the same?
As an Islamist Party we have to do what is first and foremost “Right” in the eyes of the Holy Quran and strive hard (making ijtihad) at contextualising it to our unique demography of a truly plural and mixed society. Yes we have to wind the middle-ground. Yes we have to win the Malay-Muslims vote. But we first seek to win the pleasure of the Almighty Allah. We seek to establish ‘Justice for All’.
If by so doing we enjoy the trust, mandate and support of the electorates, Praised be unto Allah, The Lord of the entire Universe.
Alhamdulillah! Allahu Akbar!


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