ADDRESS THE CULTURAL SHOCK STEMMING FROM UNIVERSAL USE OF "ALLAH" WITH EMPATHY, JUSTICE AND WISDOM
3 April 2021
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 the 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 the 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, the 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.
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.