Address the Cultural Shock stemming from the universal use of the word Allah with empathy, justice and wisdom

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.

-END-

Endorsed by,

  1. Abdul Latif Abdullah
  2. Ahmad Ghazali Abu Hassan
  3. Anas Zubedy
  4. Azril Annuar
  5. Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, Social activist and writer
  6. Dato’ Noor Farida Mohd Ariffin, Former ambassador and G25 spokesperson
  7. Datuk Amin Satem, G25
  8. Datuk Azim Zabidi, Former UMNO Treasurer, Banker, Entrepreneur
  9. Datuk Azzat Kamalludin, Lawyer, Company Director
  10. Datuk Freida Pilus, Chairman, Cempaka Education Group
  11. Dr. Azad Razack
  12. Dr. Azmil Tayeb, Political Science, Universiti Sains Malaysia
  13. Dr. Fadzilah Abdul Majid
  14. Dr. Mohd Faizal Musa, Associate Fellow at Weatherhead Centre, Harvard University
  15. Dr. Mustafa K Anuar, Aliran
  16. Dr. Razif Ali
  17. Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas
  18. Dr. Taufiq Thiagi
  19. Dr. Wan Abdul Manan Wan Muda, Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
  20. Dr. Yasmin Ooi
  21. Dr. Yuwana Podin, Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
  22. Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Hj Shad Saleem Faruqi, Legal Scholar, Tunku Abdul Rahman Chair as Professor of Constitutional Law
  23. Emeritus Professor Johan Saravanamuttu University Sains Malaysia, Adjunct Professor, Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya, Aliran
  24. Faridah bt Mohd Fuad Stephens
  25. Fatimah Merican, Corporate board member
  26. Feisal Kamil
  27. Harun Halim Rasip
  28. Hj Amdee Sidik, Chairman, Progressive Institute of Public Policy Analysis
  29. Ikhram Merican
  30. Jahabar Sadiq
  31. Johan Arriffin Samad, G25
  32. Kamaruddin Abdullah
  33. Malek Ali, Broadcaster, BFM Radio; Entrepreneur
  34. Masjaliza Hamzah, Human rights activist
  35. Mohamed bin Halim
  36. Mohamed Tawfik bin Tun Dr Ismail, Malaysia First, G25, ex Member of Parliament, Sungei Benut, Johor
  37. Mohsin Abdullah, Columnist and Journalist
  38. Munawir Mohd Mokhtar
  39. Nina Halim Rasip
  40. Noraini Othman, Retired professor
  41. Norhayati Kaprawi, Artist and documentary filmmaker
  42. Nur Qyira Yusri, Co-founder Undi18
  43. Nuraain Amirah Yee Abdullah
  44. Professor Dr. Mohamed Tajuddin Mohamed Rasdi
  45. Professor Zaharom Nain, Chair, Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
  46. Rahim Sulaiman
  47. Razali Wong Phui Nam, Ex Banker, Economist, and Poet
  48. Rily Soon Teik Ooi, Commercial Pilot
  49. Roslan Mohd Jannes, Entrepreneur
  50. Rozan bin Abdullah
  51. Rozana Isa, Sisters in Islam
  52. Sarajun Hoda Abdul Hassan, Social Activist
  53. Siraj Razack
  54. Siti Kasim
  55. Tan Sri Dato Dr. Mohd. Munir bin Abdul Majid
  56. Wan Royhana Ibrahim
  57. Zainah Anwar, Women’s rights activist and co-founder of Sisters in Islam (SIS) and Musawah
  58. Zila Fawzi, WISDOM Foundation

The 58 Muslims symbolise 58 years of Malaysia.

For enquiries, please contact Zila (+6017 6109 100 or zilafawzi@gmail.com).

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