Despite learned scholars bemoaning the government's insistence that 'Allah' is exclusive to Muslims, it still refuses to accord any respect to the rights of non-Muslims to use the word.
Delirious – that is what Najib Tun Razak’s government has turned the nation into. From a prime minister who is obsessed with ‘kangkung’ to the King who seems swayed by religious sentiments to threats by Umno of yet another May 13 racial riot, the scenario is very, very troubling.
While the rakyat ponders the fate of the nation, the prime minister is just as perturbed, but not by the disturbing turn of events. Rather, Najib is displeased that the rakyat has failed to appreciate and take in good faith his ‘kangkung’ analogy.
Refusing to let the episode fade away, Najib is grabbing every opportunity to defend his kangkung statement which came about after he questioned the rakyat’s condemnation of the Barisan Nasional government each time prices of goods goes up but not praised when they fall, saying that the cost of kangkung (water spinach) had dropped.
The lampooning that followed saw a series of video and meme parodies as Malaysians took offence with his use of the humble water spinach to explain his government’s price hikes. It even made it to foreign shores, with the British news service BBC publishing a report titled ‘#BBCtrending: Be careful what you say about spinach’.
Looks like the Najib and ‘kangkung affair’ is far from ending. Instead, it has the premier making every attempt to defend his remark. He did it twice – once at the dinner held by the Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress in Kuala Lumpur last Thursday.
The next was during the monthly assembly at the Finance Ministry in Putrajaya on Tuesday where the premier tried pointing out that he used the kangkung as an example to explain the ‘supply-demand principle’.
“When it is the monsoon season, prices of fish goes up and even vegetables,” he said as the crowd burst into laughter at the reference to vegetables. “I had used the kangkung as an example of the supply-demand principle. My favourite foods are kangkung and sotong (squid).”
Najib cannot see past the ‘kangkung’ incident. But then it is also Najib who chose to adopt a short-sighted attitude towards the controversy sparked by the ‘Allah’ issue.
Umno’s disrespect for non-Malays
Despite learned scholars bemoaning Najib and his administration’s refusal to drop its stubbornness that ‘Allah’ could only be used by Muslims, the country’s largest race-based party Umno refuses to accord any respect to the rights of non-Muslims to use the word ‘Allah’.
A Pakistani Muslim cleric, Younos AlGohar, described the Malaysian Appeals Court decision that the word ‘Allah’ is exclusively for Muslims as syirik.
Younos said that the judgment only served to show that “Muslims today do not have any understanding of the Quran”.
“It is so clear that the word Allah can be used by any human being because everyone is the creation of Allah. There is no other creator. So why must you ban people of other religion from using God’s name?” he asked.
Younos did not mince his words when he criticised the three judges and the authorities as being highly ignorant, shortsighted and prejudiced.
The Appeals Court had on Oct 14, 2013 ruled against allowing the use of the word ‘Allah’ in the Herald. The publisher has since taken the matter for appeal to the Federal Court which would meet to make a decision on March 5.
Will Umno now resort to burning an effigy of Younos for ‘calling a spade a spade’? The truth is that these three judges aside, the country’s monarchy too seems lost in the on-going row concerning the use of ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims.
During Prophet Muhammad’s birthday celebration on Jan 14, His Majesty, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam said: “Let us together make every effort to strengthen brotherhood and bring about changes and improvements in the Islamic mould as taught by Prophet Muhammad in a moderate and balanced manner.”
The King went on to say that the Prophet managed to rid the community of bad habits and a culture of fanatical beliefs by replacing them with a culture of tolerance and mutual understanding of one another.
But five days later, the King who is also the Sultan of Kedah made an about-turn and threw all support behind a court ruling that prohibits non-Muslims from using the word ‘Allah’.
Sultan Abdul Halim in a speech commemorating the birthday of the Sultan of Kedah said that ‘several words including ‘Allah’ were the exclusive rights of Muslims, citing a 1986 decree by the National Fatwa Council on their use.’
“In the context of a pluralistic society, religious sensitivities especially related to Islam as the religion of the federation should be respected. Confusion and controversy can be averted if there is adherence to the provisions of the law and judicial decisions,” Sultan Abdul Halim added.
The state ruler-cum King’s biased perception is a disappointment but not surprising, given the fact that the ‘Allah’ issue continues to be ‘misunderstood’ by the federal government and manipulated by Umno politicians.
And it is for this reason too that the King, the state rulers and the BN government is not the least worried over the actions of Selangor Umno which went ahead and burnt an effigy of Reverend Lawrence, editor of the Catholic publication the Herald.
But when PKR Machang Bubuk assemblyman Lee Khai Loon organised the kangkung flash-mob, Malay-rights group Perkasa was quick to resonate its worry that the “kangkung furore” might cause a repeat of the May 13 racial riots.
How about the effigy burning by Selangor Umno? Does such act not not constitute ‘offensive’ and ‘insensitive’ categories?
Why force Lee to apologise when Umno thugs show no respect to a ‘man of God’ and to the sentiments of the non-Malays and chooses instead to inflame the already heated up topic on ‘Allah’?
Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist