Side Views

News without context is noise: The ‘Allah’ confusion — Bob Teoh

FEB 24 — One of the ten golden rules of journalism is context. News without context is just noise. The swirling “Allah” confusion is a case in point.

It was Penang Chief Minister and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng who started the noise by making a call in his 2012 Christmas message for the Alkitab or Malay language bible to be freely available. The backlash was so swift and fast that he quickly qualified it as meaning only for Sabah and Sarawak. This is a ludicrous proposition ― one country two bibles. LGE is both out of depth and out of context.

Independent MP Ibrahim Ali, who is also head of the right wing Perkasa, wanted to burn bibles. He too back-tracked saying he meant only the Alkitab and not the English one. What’s the difference? He too is out of context and more dangerously, he’s out of his mind.

The context is that the Alkitab was banned 32 years ago five months by Dr Mahathir Mohamad under the now defunct Internal Security Act on grounds that it is a threat to national security. This is also a ludicrous posture. The ban was subsequently modified to allow the Alkitab to be used only in churches and sold in designated premises. The ban otherwise remains in force today under a replacement legislation.

Activist lawyer Baru Bian, who is PKR Assemblyman for Ba’ Kelalan said the basis for arguing whether non-Muslims can use the word “Allah” to refer to God must rest on its context, etymology (or the historical development of the word), and the relevant laws surrounding it.

Ten per cent or slightly over two million of the population in Malaysia are Christians. Of this, about two thirds are Malay speaking Bumiputera Christians mainly in Sabah and Sarawak. They rely on the Malay language or Indonesian bible known as the Alkitab which uses the word “Allah” to refer to God.

The first portion of Christian Scriptures translated into Malay was done in Indonesia for the Gospel of Matthew in 1612, four hundred years ago! This was one year after the authorised version of the bible was translated into English known as the King James Version (KJV). The Malay translation was also the first non-European language translation of the bible.

Baru argued that East Malaysian Christians have been using “Allah” to refer to God for generations. This has never been a problem before or after the formation of Malaysia in 1963. Why should this cause confusion now after half a century?

Three years ago on December 31, 2009, that the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled in favour of the Catholic, which is the publisher of Herald, that even though Islam is the religion of the Federation, this does not empower the government to prohibit the use of the word “Allah” in the Malay edition of the Herald. This judgement is now under appeal but it remains law until and unless the decision is reversed by a higher court of law.

Since 1980, various state Islamic enactments and fatwas were put in place and one of which is to prohibit non-Muslims from using Arabic words such as “Allah”. But these are seemingly unenforceable on non-Muslims under the Federal Constitution.

In summary, the context, etymology and the law clearly allow non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” to mean God. But Islamists contend that the word “Allah” is exclusively sacred to Muslims and non-Muslims should not profane it. Now that we get the context, let’s leave the noise out, please. —

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.


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