Sunday, January 24, 2010
Of Free Speech and Responsible Conduct
I met Ku Ali in Mecca while doing my umrah. It was in a hot summer night that we took a stroll around the holy city, admired the eminence the city had, and talked in a language only the two of us could decipher.

He bought me falafel and left before I could thank him.


It seems in Malaysia there now exist groups that refuse to make our country work. Failing to realize the unique social and cultural framework that we have, either through sheer stupidity or a much sinister agenda, they continually harp on issues that they know to be sensitive and delicate, in the name of that oh-so-familiar slogan of free speech. Regretfully, these exact same groups often forget about the importance of ‘responsible conduct’ when they embrace that convenient slogan. I am all for free speech, don’t get me wrong. But I am also totally against stupidity and irresponsibility.

The controversial “Allah” issue should not be an issue in the first place, if those involved could be wise enough to put national harmony before any other goals. I am not a theology scholar, so I would not attempt to address this issue from that angle. Furthermore, I see the unrestrained and zealous comments of those without knowledge and expertise, on everything under the sun, to be the main cause of the bulk of the problems we have today.

Allah is an Arabic word that had been used in the Malay world since the coming of Islam to this region. Historical chronology suggests that Muslim traders, whom arrived earlier compared to Christian missionaries, were those responsible for the introduction. The study of linguistics and semantics will tell us that words are “sounds” that we give meaning to. The process in which a word acquires its meaning and significance is a complex and interesting study of human consciousness. We will not go deep into the technicalities of these processes, but suffice to say that local culture, usage and convention play a major role in assessing the significance and concept that a word embodies.

It is true that in the Arab world “Allah” is the common term for god. However, in our country, through many centuries of usage and adaptation, that same term had gained a more specific meaning with Islamic connotation. It had become a proper noun (this is why “Allah” is always written with a capital A), and as all those who had paid attention in grammar class would know, proper nouns always refer to something specific. The Malay language provides more common terms to refer to god(s) of other faiths, examples being ‘tuhan,’ ‘dewa’ and ‘dewi.’ These terms can be variously used as a common or proper noun, depending on context.

The arguments that suggests “Allah” should be used by faiths other than Islam, just because the Arabs and Indonesian Christians are using it, from a linguist’s view, is redundant, and from a nationalist’s view, preposterous. Context differs with locality, and evidently our situation and context is different from those countries. One thing that we can’t get our head around is why should we follow Indonesia’s lead? Had this country proven to be a better model for a country, in any aspect, compared to us? Why must we, after 53 years of independence, look towards a country that had on many occasions showed hostility towards us, for a solution? What is the use of being independent if we continually admire the conventions from abroad, rather than developing and having confidence in our own system?

The usage of the term “Allah” differs between East Malaysia and the Peninsula. In the Peninsula the term embodies strong Islamic connotation. The Christians here do not and never have used the term “Allah” to refer to god. In East Malaysia, however, the native Christians do use it. My Christian friends from Sarawak told me that yes they do use the term, but they always make the distinction by using “Tuan Allah” when referring to their god. They understand the confusion that could be created by the casual use of “Allah,” and they, like the Muslim natives of East Malaysia, did not like the idea of confusion. For them, if one was to convert to any religion, one should not be confused as to which god one is submitting oneself to.

Christianity exists in various sects throughout the world. The liturgical languages used in the services differ with sect and location. The Vatican Catholics use Latin. The various Eastern Orthodoxies use Russian, Armenian, and Greek etc. The Coptic uses Arabic, while the Syriacs are probably the only church left still using the original language of Jesus, Aramaic. The plethora of languages used for services, and the lack of effort to reestablish Aramaic as the liturgical language (since it was the language spoken by Jesus himself), seems to suggest the name by whom god is called is not of central importance in Christian doctrine. If it was of grave concern, it would have been corrected a long time ago, in the various councils convened throughout Christian history. The use and adaptations of the various liturgical languages were accepted and tolerated by the original, pre-Christian practitioners of those languages. We assume that none of these communities opposed the absorption of their languages as a liturgical language by the Christian community. It seems to us that The Herald, through its active pursuit of this issue, is trying to break from the Christian convention, by imposing their will on the Malay language. This is despite the clear opposition and resistance of a majority of the original practitioners, the Malays. This makes us wonder the level of respect those from The Herald have with regards to the Malay community, in contrast to their predecessors who were in contact with the pre-Christian communities whose languages are now part of Christian liturgical practices. We would feel very much sad for the Christian faith, if its image of toleration and love is marred by The Herald, which seems adamant about imposing its will on a visibly reluctant community.

Maybe those from The Herald were not aware of the linguistic connotation and significance of the term “Allah,” and how it applied to the Malaysian context. We will give them the benefit of the doubt. They were testing waters unexplored. However, what we find unsettling is the zeal with which they are pursuing the issue. Muslims had clearly expressed their grievances and disagreement when this issue started, long before it spiraled into the chaos that it is now. It appears to us that those from The Herald were not wise enough to lay off the case when the ban was made by the Government. They decided that no, they had to bring it to another level. We say this action was unwise because they failed to realize the dire consequences it had on our social harmony. It doesn’t take a university education to see that tensions were brewing (then). Let us hope that this is just a case of poor judgment and lack of wisdom on the part of those from The Herald. We would be damned as a nation, if they did actually know exactly what they were doing. Stupidity can be forgiven, but malicious intent is much graver.

We Malaysians cannot begin to describe how angry we are at those responsible for the church and surau attacks. As I said earlier, I am totally against stupidity and irresponsibility. Hey morons, what did you think you were achieving by those attacks? The action was too stupid because it did not contribute to any solution. And do you honestly think that the Muslims and Christians will hail you as heroes for your cowardice? Why should they, after you smeared their image. Most Malaysians understand our faith well enough to know that it is strictly forbidden to cause damage to houses of worship. Whoever you are, we hope you will be sentenced the severest punishment. Scumbags like you are part of that group which I said refuse to make our country work. Please excuse my harsh language, but I put high emphasis on the exactness of meaning.

When Caliph Umar Al-Khattab entered Jerusalem, he was offered by the Patriarch of Jerusalem to pray inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He refused, preferring to pray just outside it. Nothing in the doctrine of Islam or Christianity prevented him to pray in the church. It was only his foresight and good judgment that explained this action. He realized the implications the Christians will have if he did pray in it. He did not want future quarrels between Muslims and Christians over the significance of the church. Those with wisdom and good intent will never pursue anything just because they can. Doing things just for the sake of doing it, without much consideration for future implications is stupid, and might we say, destructive. We urge all those involved in this scandal to ponder the significance of Caliph Umar’s decision, and think about the consequences our actions today will have on the future.

I will refrain from making comments about the ruling made by Justice Lau. I will leave that task to the public. We believe that we are guaranteed the right to having our own opinion under the Constitution. We hope the next judge dealing with this case will impress us with a verdict worthy of the case. Please take into consideration the unique social and cultural framework that our country is based upon, and the consequences your judgments will have on the future of our harmony. We put our faith in the judicial system, so please do not disappoint us.

When the British granted us independence, they believed that we will become a failed nation, considering the social setting that they themselves had developed in our nation. So far we had proved them wrong. We must understand the unique and delicate situation that we are. Sensitivity and consideration must be employed in conducting ourselves. It will be such a shame if our actions today will contribute to the realization of what the British had predicted when they left us. For the sake of our nation, please ponder and think where we want our country to go from here. We decide.

Ku Ali


Remember the name, it's Ku Ali. In case you have forgotten already.

posted by Izham Ismail at 3:40 am | Permalink |


  • At 24 January, 2010 11:45, Anonymous Anonymous

    one of the best piece ever written on the subject matter, kudos

  • At 24 January, 2010 17:24, Blogger njahmat

    izham, you took the words out of my mouth, but you phrased them a million times better than i could ever do. please send this to a paper, website or something. it's such a good piece that it's a shame if you don't share it with the other 21 mil Malaysians=)

  • At 24 January, 2010 17:24, Blogger njahmat

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 24 January, 2010 17:24, Blogger njahmat

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 24 January, 2010 17:24, Blogger njahmat

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 24 January, 2010 21:56, Anonymous Anonymous

    Well said, Am.
    Great to bump into u just now.
    And remember, business is business k. Haha. Take care, bro.

  • At 24 January, 2010 22:26, Anonymous Anonymous

    ku ali is brilliant. send my regards to him.


  • At 24 January, 2010 23:33, Anonymous Anonymous

    this is the problem when issue of Islam/theology is mixed with issue of nationalism/emotions etc.

    As verbose and fluent this Ku Ali can sound, he is viewing it from the nationalistic viewpoint.

    Please go to Islamic muzakarah, belajar dari ustaz2 & ulamak, and understand this.

    Dalam Islam, tentukan hukumnya dahulu. Sbb hukum itu datang dari Al-Quran & hadis berdasarkan dalil & nas.

    Kemudian kaji kesesuian.

    Bro Ku Ali kita ni dah claim awal2 - he cannot comment much from theological's perspective. That's the flaw - issue ini yang dimainkan sbg isu aqidah, perlulah diputuskan terlebih dahulu dari persoalan kaedah.

    Pergilah tanya mana2 ulamak, sebahagian besarnya bersetuju (termasuklah ulamak dr IKIM dsbnya) bahawa hukum penganut agama lain menggunakan Allah untuk merujuk kepada Tuhan, adalah HARUS.

    Ini hukum berdasarkan nas dan dalil.

    Kebimbangan mengenai permasalahn ummah itu adalah persoalah kaedah, bagaimana dan apakah kaedahnya untuk pastikan tindakan itu tidak mendatangkan mudarat kepada ummah.

    Tetapi persoalan kaedah tidak boleh menukar persoalan hukum yg telah ditetapkan melalui dalil & nas.

    Malangnya bila orang Islam sendiri, yang bermati-matian mendakwa ini isu mempertahankan Islam, tidak kembali ke kaedah agama untuk menilai isu ini, sebaliknya mengambil jalan yg diambil oleh Bro Ku Ali ini - iaitu menghurai isu agama dari pandangan politik & nasionalism.

    Dan ramai pula disini, yang terikut2 sehingga seolah2 tidak tahu bahawa persoalan hukum perlu didahulukan.

    Nasihat saya pergilah pelbagai muzakarah dan majlis ilmu yang dihadiri ustaz2 & ulamak2, barulah jelas sikit.

    Jangan surau & masjid jarang dikunjungi, tetapi ghairah berdemo membawa isu yg mungkin hukumnya kita sendiri tak tahu hujung pangkal.

    Dan ketaksuban kita kepada seseorang yg jelas kurang pakar dalam bidangnya, menyerlahkan kita sendiri kurang arif dalam memilih yang mana yang perlu diikut.


  • At 25 January, 2010 16:45, Anonymous Anonymous

    Too many anonymous, but I have to agree with the first one. Indeed the best article on the subject matter I've read so far.


  • At 27 January, 2010 22:18, Anonymous Anonymous

    ble g umrah
    stay hotel mn?

  • At 01 February, 2010 11:16, Anonymous Anonymous

    Kepada Anonymous #4,

    Awak bercakap panjang lebar tentang hukum agama, tapi nampaknya awak sendiri kurang faham tentang hukum.

    "Dalam Islam, tentukan hukumnya dahulu. Sbb hukum itu datang dari Al-Quran & hadis berdasarkan dalil & nas.

    Kemudian kaji kesesuian."

    "Pergilah tanya mana2 ulamak, sebahagian besarnya bersetuju (termasuklah ulamak dr IKIM dsbnya) bahawa hukum penganut agama lain menggunakan Allah untuk merujuk kepada Tuhan, adalah HARUS.

    Ini hukum berdasarkan nas dan dalil."

    Seperti kata awak, hukum penggunaan istilah Allah adalah HARUS berdasarkan dalil dan nas.Baiklah kita terima hukum itu. Tapi fahamkah awak maksud hukum harus? Maksudnya tak ada galakan ataupun halangan untuk digunakan. Neutral. Dalam perkara-perkara sebeginilah sangat penting kebijaksanaan digunakan, seperti yang dianjurkan oleh Ku Ali. Harus bukan bermakna boleh tanpa menghirau perasaan orang lain dan kesan pada masyarakat.

    Kalau istilah Allah awak nak rujuk penggunaannya dalam bahasa Arab, kenapa istilah Ulama awak tak ambil pendekatan yang sama yang akan meluaskan maksudnya? Ulama itu apa? Ulama maksudnya orang yang berilmu dalam bidangnya. Tak terbatas kepada ilmu agama. Berdasarkan tulisannya, Ku Ali nampaknya arif dalam bidang bahasa dan sejarah. Dan diingatkan bahawa hukum perkara ini, seperti yang diterangkan oleh awak, adalah HARUS. Jadi tak ada salahnya jika dia mengulas isu ini daripada "nationalistic viewpoint." Malah pada saya lebih sesuai, kerana ianya dapat difahami oleh seluruh masyarakat, bukan terbatas kepada umat Islam sahaja.

    Dalam ajaran Kristian juga, berdasarkan penghayatan perenggan 7 tulisan Ku Ali, dengan nama apa tuhan dipanggil tidaklah menjadi persoalan pokok.

    Sekarang kita sudah jelas dari segi syara' hukum perkara ini adalah HARUS. Dari segi perundangan pula, terdapat undang-undang yang menghadkan penggunaan istilah-istilah tertentu yang mempunyai kecenderungan Islam. Undang-undang ini sesuai kerana ianya akan mengelak kekeliruan dan perasaan syak di kalangan masyarakat. Awak tak boleh kata undang-undang ini salah dan tak selaras dengan hukum syara', kerana hukum perkara ini adalah HARUS, maka berhak kerajaan menggubal undang-undang berdasarkan kesesuaian.

    Awak kena faham, mempertahankan agama ini, bukan semestinya mesti membawa hujah dalil dan nas, terutamanya bila berhadapan dengan orang-orang yang tak seagama dengan kita dan mereka-mereka yang tak faham. Kita bila jelaskan sesuatu perkara, perlulah diulas dalam bahasa yang difahami kumpulan sasar kita. Kalau sesama Islam gunalah dalil dan nas, kerana kita faham dan hormat hujah-hujah tersebut. Kalau dengan orang yang tak hormat hujah sebegitu, gunakanlah pendekatan lain. Itu menunjukkan hikmah dan kebijaksanaan.