Monday, January 11, 2010

In the Name of Allah:Yahweh and so on.

When you live in a secular republic, you sometimes forget that religious sensitivities are actually very sensitive. Singapore's government has had a habit of clamping down on anything that smacks of religious or racial provocation. Muslim school girls cannot cover their heads when they go to secular schools but if you want to write about gassing the Malay community, you could find yourself in jail. Say what you like about Singapore but I like the fact that this is a place where you can have a Church, Hindu, Taoist,Buddhist temples and a mosque all within walking distance of each other. Say what you like about Singapore being a stuffy place that suppresses things (a lot gets suppressed), it's one of the few places where sacred festivals get merged. You get things like Gongxiraya or Deeparaya whenever Chinese New Year or Depavali (Diwali to North Indians) happen on the same day as Hari Raya (Eid in the Arab World)

So when you grow up in this environment, it's hard to figure out why people get worked up over what sounds like a small issue. During the Danish Cartoon issue, the average Singaporean couldn't see the European point of view that this was a freedom of speech issue or the Muslim view that was a point of respecting religion. To us, both sides were unnecessarily stubborn. We thought the Muslims were getting worked up over a bunch of cartoons for nothing while teh Europeans were just being arrogant in their insistence over the right of the papers to publish anything.

Anyway, it's the story of religious harmony has taken a slightly different tone across the Causeway in Malaysia. Apparently some churches have been attacked because a recent high court ruling has allowed the use of the name of God, "Allah" to be used by non-Muslims. For me I find this a little disturbing.

I've always understood the Malay Muslim community to be peace loving. Generally speaking, Malay Muslims in Singapore are friendlier than their Chinese counterparts. I also find Malay majority Malaysia to be more relaxed and less stressful than Chinese dominated Singapore.

I find it strange to listen to Westerners talk about the violent nature of Islam or how Islam represses people. Anyone who thinks Islam is violent should come over to Malaysia and see how the average Malay conducts his daily life - it's the most simple and peaceful thing you'd see. By contrast, the Chinese get unnecessarily aggressive over 20 cents.

So given the inherent peaceful nature of Malay Muslim culture, why is everyone getting worked up over the term "Allah?" As far I have experienced the argument against using the word "Allah"or any the common sayings in the Arab world like "Salaam" (peace) or "Insh Allah" (God Willing) by non-Muslims amounts to mocking the religion. On the personal front, I just need to be aware of who you speak to. In the Arab world and dealing with Arabs, I use such phrases because they look on it as an acceptance and appreciation of their culture. I don't with my Malay friends.

Let's leave aside my personal interactions and look at the theological premise of non-Muslims using the term, "Allah." Why is it blasphemy to use the term "Allah," in a Christian service for example? I can't think of one that comes to mind.

Islam, does not claim to be a new religion with a New God for people to worship. If you read the arguments of Islamic scholars, Islam is not a NEW RELIGION but a FULFILLMENT of the current covenant with God, which is outlined in the Jewish Torah and Christian Gospel. As far as Islam is concerned, "Allah," is the same as "Yahweh" in the Torah.

Theological conflicts between Christianity and Islam come not so much from differences between religion but between the disagreements of interpretations of the same God. Christians revere Christ as part of God and see the Gospel as a record of Jesus's life. By contrast, Islam reveres Jesus as a Prophet of God (as opposed to being God) and sees the Koran as the Word of God. However, if you look at both books, they both agree of quite a lot.

Everyone agrees that there is the One God - Allah and Yahweh being the same God expressed in different linguistic terms. It is actually correct for Jews and Christians to use the term Allah when speaking in the Arabic world or even in Malay language communications. Jews, Christians and Muslims agree that the God they worship is the same one.

Hence, I wonder what is going on over this argument about the use of the word Allah. It's definitely not a theological dispute. Nor is it about people who care about Islam. To care of Islam, you need some understanding of its theology just as you do about any other religion. I suspect trouble makers must be up to no good.