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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Seeking Harmony in Malaysia

I am pleased to see the following article by Imam Feisal. He has laid out how things are and then offered solutions. My comments follow the article - Mike Ghouse

Seeking Harmony in Malaysia
By Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
The Star Online (Malaysia)
January 13, 2010

If a Muslim proselytized outside St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, he might find a cold welcome. He would be legally within his rights. But he would be socially provocative.

The same can be said for the Malay language-edition of the Catholic monthly, The Herald, which decided to use the word "Allah" in reference to the Christian God.

Yes, it is true that Allah is the Arabic word for God and that Arab Christians use the word Allah when they refer to God. And yes, it is true that under freedom of speech and freedom of religion, one should be able to refer to the supreme deity any way one wants.

But among Malays, who are practically all Muslims, Allah refers to the Islamic Supreme Being. And the attempt by The Herald to appropriate the word Allah to refer to the Christian God appeared to some Malays to be seeking to convert them away from their faith.

Now pictures of protesting Malays are circulating around the world, and people are wondering why. During the past 20 years since the implosion of the Soviet Union, some Western churches have been evangelizing in central, southern and eastern Asia. This angered the established religions there - whether they were Muslim, Eastern Orthodox or Hindu - and in India that anger turned to violence.

Most recently that anger has surfaced in Malaysia, where 60 percent of the people are Malays. The Malaysian High Court's ruling that Allah is not exclusive to Muslims led to the fire bombing of four Christian churches and widespread protests among Malays, who fear Catholics are trying to manipulate the word to win Malay converts.

This should not be. Islam and Christianity are at their roots religions of peace and tolerance. A certain amount of competition will always exist among religions. Good competition is to compete in good works. Bad competition is trying to undermine the other faith. To live harmoniously in that competition requires everyone to understand the consequences of their actions.

My message to the Christian community in Malaysia is that using the word Allah to mean the Christian God may be theologically and legally correct, but in the context of Malaysia, it is socially provocative. If you want to have influence with people in Malaysia, you must find a way to convey your message without provoking this kind of response. If you want to reach the Malays, then use the Malay word for God, which is Tuhan.

At the same time, I urge the Malays to act in accordance with the ethical values of Islam. You must recognize that we do not own Islam but Islam owns us. We do not own Allah. Allah owns us. We live in a globalized era where events in Malaysia have consequences around the world. Some people in Christian-majority countries will see Muslims mistreating Christian minorities and use that to justify mistreating Muslim minorities in their countries.

In the Hadith, the Prophet taught us: "Cursed is the one who curses his own parents." A companion to the Prophet said, "Messenger of God, how can a man curse his own parents?" The Prophet replied, "He curses the parents of another man, and out of anger, that man curses his own parents."

So if Muslims curse the Christians, then the Christians will curse the Muslims. And people will curse Allah, and Allah will hold us responsible for that.

The Quran is even more explicit on this point when it says, "Do not curse the gods of those who do not believe in Allah, lest they unknowingly curse Allah out of their hostile feelings."

That means that even though we may have the right belief, if we treat non-Muslims wrongly, they will have ill will toward Allah and Islam, and Allah will hold us responsible for that.

Firebombing churches? From the beginning of Islam, the Prophet said our faith requires us as Muslims to protect houses of worship of all other faith traditions. Islam was able to spread throughout the world, not only because of its own ideas, but also because it protected people's rights to practice religion freely.

My plea to the Malaysian politicians is please, please do not politicize religion. When religion becomes subservient to political agendas, it often becomes a tool for politicians who misconstrue the religion's basic principles for their own ends. No good can come from provoking this issue to gain political advantage. Religion is meant to inform leaders on ethics and principles.

Our goal must be living together harmoniously. Our goal is freedom of conscience.
Our model should be the Prophet Muhammad when he worshiped in Mecca before Islam had taken hold. He did not pray the noon and afternoon prayers in a loud voice lest that would incite anger of the unbelievers. And like him, we should all practice our religions in a way that does not provoke others.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that seeks to use religion to improve Muslim-West relations. (www.cordobainitiative.org) He is the author of "What's Right with Islam is What's Right With America."

MY COMMENTS

However, as a person of faith, I would not have written, “The Herald, which decided to use the word "Allah" in reference to the Christian God.” – No sir, there is no Christian or Muslim God; it is God of all beings.

I am taken back with this particular paragraph, “My message to the Christian community in Malaysia is that using the word Allah to mean the Christian God may be theologically and legally correct, but in the context of Malaysia, it is socially provocative. If you want to have influence with people in Malaysia, you must find a way to convey your message without provoking this kind of response. If you want to reach the Malays, then use the Malay word for God, which is Tuhan.”

I can see the strategy in allaying the fears for now, and then bring the change through education. The question is, has it been socially provocative forever, or is it a recent phenomenon? Can we give legitimacy to the fundamentalist exclusive claims to the word Allah? Aren’t the Christians using this word for centuries? Why is it a problem now? Is it the influence of fundamentalism or are the missionaries using the word Allah to harvest the Muslim souls?

The majority of Malaysians are good to the bone, tolerant and pluralistic people, we need to invoke their goodness to speak up and take charge of the situation, and let them talk to the lost souls and bring some sense. We should not deny the right of an Individual to call the creator whatever name one wants to or even suggest that they use another name.

Mike Ghouse just wrote an article, who owns God - http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2010/01/who-owns-god.html

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