We the undersigned urge all parties including the Federal Government to address the cultural shock stemming from the universal use of the word Allah with empathy, justice and wisdom to avoid unintended consequences.
1. West Malaysian Muslims’ anxiety over the use of the word Allah is caused by a cultural shock due to the unique historical experience of West Malaysia, not because of theological differences between Islam and Christianity.
2. West Malaysia is unique amongst Muslim countries because Muslims use bahasa Melayu/Malaysia while Christians (except orang Asli) traditionally used English, Chinese, Tamil and Kristang. Because different languages were used, Muslims and Christians did not use the same word for the Almighty.
3. In Arabic countries and Indonesia, both Muslims and Christians use the same language, Arab/Indonesia, hence they pray to Allah in mosques and churches respectively, without anxiety or suspicion.
4. The historical experience of Sabah and Sarawak resembles more that of Indonesia than that of West Malaysia. Bahasa Melayu had already become the lingua franca for native groups like Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Kadazan-dusun and Murut even before the arrival of Christianity. Hence naturally the Bornean Christian natives use Bahasa Melayu in church and pray to Allah and until today use religious texts including hymn books from Indonesia.
5. When churches in West Malaysia offered increasingly more services and masses in Bahasa Malaysia in 1980s, this had caused suspicion that it was an evil plot to cause Muslim apostasy. Going beyond the use of the word Allah, the apprehension is on the emergence of a common language for different religious communities. At its core, the formation of Malaysia has caused two socio-linguistic developments: migration of Sabahans and Sarawakians to West Malaysia, and the revived popularity of Bahasa Malaysia in Sabah and Sarawak.
6. The immigration of Sabahans and Sarawakians to West Malaysia for education and employment became more noticeable in 1980s because of the country’s rapid but imbalanced development. Before the establishment of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) in 1992 and Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) in 1994, main campuses of all public universities are in Semenanjung Malaysia. This cultural shock would not have happened if West Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak were not in one country, or the country’s development had been more balanced that many West Malaysian Muslims got to visit Sabah and Sarawak that they would see no issue with Christians praying to Allah.
7. This cultural shock also may not have happened if the National Language Policy has not been so successful in reviving Bahasa Malaysia’s status, resulting in its replacement of English’s position in the Colonial time as the lingua franca in Malaysian Borneo. Jill Ireland, the applicant in this Allah case, is a Melanau Christian who was “schooled in the National Education System using Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction”. Had she been educated in English, she would be praying to God and this case would not have taken place.
8. The polemic over the word Allah must be resolved without weakening the territorial integrity of Malaysia and the position of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language. Different religious communities sharing a common language is a development found in many nation-states that we should accept with calm and confidence.
9. With continuously more Sabahans and Sarawakians migrating to West Malaysia, banning Borneo Christians from praying to Allah – even just in West Malaysia a la “one country two systems” – may weaken the sense of ownership Sabahans and Sarawakians have for Malaysia or prompt demands for Bahasa Malaysia to be replaced by English as the medium of instruction in schools.
10. Meanwhile, the cultural shock faced by West Malaysian Muslims must be addressed with empathy. More Bahasa Malaysia publications in comparative religion that are respectful to religious differences must be encouraged so that both Muslims and Christians are clear about the differences between their faiths even though both pray to the same Allah. As a comparison, while Nabi Isa/Jesus Christ is revered in both faiths, this has not caused confusion because the theological differences are very clear.
- Abdul Latif Abdullah
- Ahmad Ghazali Abu Hassan
- Anas Zubedy
- Azril Annuar
- Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, Social activist and writer
- Dato’ Noor Farida Mohd Ariffin, Former ambassador and G25 spokesperson
- Datuk Amin Satem, G25
- Datuk Azim Zabidi, Former UMNO Treasurer, Banker, Entrepreneur
- Datuk Azzat Kamalludin, Lawyer, Company Director
- Datuk Freida Pilus, Chairman, Cempaka Education Group
- Dr. Azad Razack
- Dr. Azmil Tayeb, Political Science, Universiti Sains Malaysia
- Dr. Fadzilah Abdul Majid
- Dr. Mohd Faizal Musa, Associate Fellow at Weatherhead Centre, Harvard University
- Dr. Mustafa K Anuar, Aliran
- Dr. Razif Ali
- Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas
- Dr. Taufiq Thiagi
- Dr. Wan Abdul Manan Wan Muda, Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
- Dr. Yasmin Ooi
- Dr. Yuwana Podin, Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
- Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Hj Shad Saleem Faruqi, Legal Scholar, Tunku Abdul Rahman Chair as Professor of Constitutional Law
- Emeritus Professor Johan Saravanamuttu University Sains Malaysia, Adjunct Professor, Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya, Aliran
- Faridah bt Mohd Fuad Stephens
- Fatimah Merican, Corporate board member
- Feisal Kamil
- Harun Halim Rasip
- Hj Amdee Sidik, Chairman, Progressive Institute of Public Policy Analysis
- Ikhram Merican
- Jahabar Sadiq
- Johan Arriffin Samad, G25
- Kamaruddin Abdullah
- Malek Ali, Broadcaster, BFM Radio; Entrepreneur
- Masjaliza Hamzah, Human rights activist
- Mohamed bin Halim
- Mohamed Tawfik bin Tun Dr Ismail, Malaysia First, G25, ex Member of Parliament, Sungei Benut, Johor
- Mohsin Abdullah, Columnist and Journalist
- Munawir Mohd Mokhtar
- Nina Halim Rasip
- Noraini Othman, Retired professor
- Norhayati Kaprawi, Artist and documentary filmmaker
- Nur Qyira Yusri, Co-founder Undi18
- Nuraain Amirah Yee Abdullah
- Professor Dr. Mohamed Tajuddin Mohamed Rasdi
- Professor Zaharom Nain, Chair, Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
- Rahim Sulaiman
- Razali Wong Phui Nam, Ex Banker, Economist, and Poet
- Rily Soon Teik Ooi, Commercial Pilot
- Roslan Mohd Jannes, Entrepreneur
- Rozan bin Abdullah
- Rozana Isa, Sisters in Islam
- Sarajun Hoda Abdul Hassan, Social Activist
- Siraj Razack
- Siti Kasim
- Tan Sri Dato Dr. Mohd. Munir bin Abdul Majid
- Wan Royhana Ibrahim
- Zainah Anwar, Women’s rights activist and co-founder of Sisters in Islam (SIS) and Musawah
- Zila Fawzi, WISDOM Foundation
The 58 Muslims symbolise 58 years of Malaysia.
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