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Sunday, July 7, 2013

ALLAH ROW: Islam is better taught than fought - ex-Mufti

ALLAH ROW: Islam is better taught than fought - ex-Mufti
Putrajaya should focus on educating Malaysians about Islam instead of wrangling with Christians for exclusive rights to “Allah”, former Perlis Mufti Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin has said as the religious row bounces back to court this week.
The legal tug-of-war between Muslim Malaysians and their Christian countrymen for the right to call god “Allah” began five years ago and shows no sign of ending soon, as the Barisan Nasional (BN) government appears reluctant to drop its case despite having ceded ground when it allowed churches to ship in Malay bibles containing the disputed word.
“Focus on something more effective to defend our religion,” Asri told The Malay Mail Online in a recent exclusive interview.
“It is better for people to know who’s the real ‘Allah’, than to waste your money,” he said, of the government’s appeal that has been languishing in the Court of Appeal for the past four years.
The vocal Islamic scholar pointed out that in the Middle East from where both creeds sprang, churches use the Arabic word “Allah” and not the Malay “Tuhan” to describe their god, and added that he was confident Muslims in Malaysia were able to distinguish the god they worship from the Christian god.
“Only stupid Muslims cannot differentiate between Muslims’ Allah and Christians’ Allah,” he said.
In a landmark judgment, the High Court had ruled in 2009 that the Catholic Church had the right to publish the word “Allah” in its newspaper to denote the Christian god as the word is not exclusive to Islam.
The Home Ministry’s bid to appeal the decision — which is fixed for case management at the Court of Appeal on July 9 — has sparked concern among the religious minorities over the perceived dominance of Islam in the country.
“The government should focus on educating people,” said Asri, and advised the authorities not to “force non-Muslims to accept Islam, but provide free translations of the Quran.”
“It’s better than fighting all the time,” he said.
Muslims, Asri said, including himself in the equation, had not been doing a good job of explaining their faith to others.
“Our job is to educate people, not enforce the law,” said Asri. “If you do your job, people will not leave the faith.”
According to the lecturer in Islamic studies, Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the West.
Its growth was possible, he said, due to the efforts of Muslims there in approaching others and talking about their faith, and voiced his frustration at how different the local scene seemed.
“Why is it in this country, we have billions, but suddenly, there are complaints about people wanting to leave Islam or not respecting Islam?” Asri asked, referring to the hefty collection of alms by the state for Muslims.
“If you want to make people to understand Islam, then teach it,” he stressed.
Despite being a nation of over 15.7 million Muslims out of 28 million people, based on the 2010 census, some right-wingers continue to accuse minority groups of attempting to usurp the special position of the Malays as enshrined in Malaysia’s founding constitution and supreme law and supplant Islam with another creed.
The tension between Muslims and Christians is especially pronounced in peninsula Malaysia, where a church was firebombed in 2010 and another church raided by Islamic authorities in 2011 in the wake of the High Court judgment on the “Allah” case.
The latest controversy that sparked religious friction concerned the government’s proposal to formalise unilateral conversion of minors to Islam with the consent of the Muslim parent. The Bill had been tabled in Parliament but was withdrawn following non-Muslim outcry.
Asri believes that the religious hostilities are partly due to the dominance of Malay culture that has affected the way Islam is practised here.
“Some people want to make Islam more Malay,” said Asri, before adding, “Islam is not a religion for Malays; it’s a religion for all.”
Asri noted that the ubiquitous baju Melayu and songkok popularly donned by many during the Hari Raya celebration to end the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan were a wholly Malay custom.
“We should have baju cheongsam for a Chinese Hari Raya,” said Asri, referring to the long dress associated as traditional Chinese garb usually seen during the Lunar New Year celebrations and Chinese weddings.
“Our Prophet didn’t have ketupat and rendang,” he said, this time referring to the popular dishes served during Malay-Muslim festivals. “He was Arab.”
Asri said the authorities should dispense with unnecessary customs that appeared to increase the dominance of Malay culture rather than helped cultivate Islam, giving as an example the convention for Muslim converts to adopt “Abdullah” as their last name, dropping their family names.
“During the Prophet’s time, everyone converted,” he said, referring to Muhammad, Islam’s last prophet, and added, “No one changed his or her father’s name.”
“Everything’s controlled by Malays and Malay culture,” said Asri.
- MM

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