KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 — Muslims who dispute the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims are those confused about their own faith, popular Islamic scholar said in a recent lecture as the religious row on the subject continues to hog headlines nationwide.
In a 14-minute video clip posted on YouTube last Saturday, the former Perlis mufti explained that while the government has a right to restrict usage of the Arabic word for God, it should not use religion as an excuse because Islam allows for followers of other faiths the right to call their gods “Allah” if they are referring to the Supreme Being.
Mohd Asri (picture) highlighted that Jews and Christians in the Middle East have been using “Allah” from long ago and continue to do so without any confusion — an argument adopted by non-Muslims in Malaysia, particularly the churches.
“Firstly, when did Christians first call Al-Masih the son of Allah? When? Yesterday? Did it start with the Penang gang? Or has it been since a long time ago? When?” the 42-year-old Islamic studies lecturer said in a seminar that was video-recorded and posted online under the title “Penggunaan Nama ALLAH Oleh Bukan Islam [Use of the name ALLAH by non-Muslims]”.
Al-Masih is the Arabic name for Jesus Christ whom Christians believe to be an aspect of God, but the Muslim community here has argued that the use of the word “Allah” should be exclusive to them on the grounds that Islam is monotheistic and the word denotes the Muslim God.
“Let me ask, are there Jews and Christians in Medina? Are there?” Mohd Asri asked, before nodding.
“Are they alive? Did the Prophet let them live?” he asked again, and then raised his right hand as if to stem any argument.
He explained that Christians are considered by Muslims to be mushirikin or polytheist because they practise syirik — while they believe in a Supreme Being, they associate godly qualities to another.
“Because they say ‘Beside Allah, apart from Allah, there is another God, therefore they are called musyrikin [polytheist]. If they don’t believe at all in Allah, that’s called an atheist,” Mohd Asri said.
He related that if Muslim Malaysians were to visit the Middle East, they would meet Arab-speaking Christians and Jews who would spout the words “Daud”, “Ibrahim and “Alhamdulillah” referring to the prophets David, Abraham and the phrase “Praise be to Allah” respectively because they were commonly used there.
“Okay, that is the reality. Confused? Those who are confused are those who are not clear on their aqidah [faith],” the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) don said.
He insisted that he was not defending the Christians but simply stating a fact.
“Allah refers to the Supreme Being, it does not refer to the idols. Allah refers to the essence of God,” he said, stressing that “basically, they can if they are referring to the Supreme Being”.
He explained that it would only be wrong for non-Muslims to use “Allah” to refer to deities, and gave as an example Lord Murugan, the Hindu deity that draws thousands of worshippers annually to the Batu Caves temple complex housing a giant-sized statue of him.
“For that, we can have a guideline,” said the popular preacher.
He also highlighted that many state anthems in Malaysia contain “Allah” as part of their lyrics and reiterated his previous opinion that it would not be practical, even ludicrous, if non-Muslims were barred from uttering the word.
Diving into the crux of the “Allah” tug-of-war, Mohd Asri said while Muslims may think it strange, “like there is a hidden agenda” and question the motives of Christians with some accusing the latter of turning followers of Islam into apostates, he stressed that Christians in Sabah and Sarawak have been using the word in their native-language bibles for a long time and the allegation should not be used as an excuse to bar Christians from an established practice.
“Say, because of our situation, we don’t want tension, so we allow. Don’t say, who allowed apostasy,” he urged.
Mohd Asri acknowledged “Allah” to be a hot-button topic in Malaysia and could stir chaos, saying the government had the right to draw up rules to restrict usage of the word, but reiterated that Islam allows it.
“Certainly from an Islamic perspective it is can [be used] but in Malaysia, the situation does not allow it. Not wrong to allow. After that can argue it out in Parliament,” he said.
He drew a comparison with how some Muslims say it is haram or forbidden for a non-Muslim to enter a mosque despite having helped build and furnish the house of worship.
“Don’t like some people say, don’t allow non-Muslims into the mosque. They will be puzzled. They put in the carpets, the dome, the roof, paint and when it’s all done, they are forbidden to enter,” he said, drawing laughter from the audience.
“So, the non-Muslims get a headache,” he quipped.
The 14-minute clip has drawn over 62,000 views, 545 likes and 16 dislikes since it was uploaded on YouTube on January 12 by TV Sunnah, an Islamic broadcaster.
Race and religion are inseparable issues in Malaysia, where the Malays — who make up 60 per cent of the 28 million population — are constitutionally defined to also be Muslims, and therefore are subject to the dictates of the state Rulers who are each the head of Islam.
The country’s supreme law states that Islam is the religion of the federation but also provides for other religions to be practised freely.
The “Allah” dispute, which first erupted after the watershed 2008 Elections, remains a hot-button topic in the run-up to this year’s polls.
Debate resurfaced last month after Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng called on Putrajaya in his Christmas message to lift a ban on Malay-language bibles in Borneo Malaysia.
Hot on the heels of the DAP leader’s remarks, several state Rulers and Islamic religious authorities reminded non-Muslims of state laws banning use of the word, despite conflicting with a 2009 High Court judgment that ruled “Allah” was not exclusive to Islam.