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I’m Catholic and I won’t use ‘Allah’. Are you happy now?

Francis Paul Siah
Executive Editor
I’m a Catholic and a Sarawakian but I reside in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. On the “Allah” issue, what should I do or rather, where do I stand?

I have been told that Christians and other non-Muslims can use “Allah” to refer to God in Sarawak and Sabah but not in Malaya. I’m not sure whether that is a court ruling, a royal decree or just a political decision.

That being the case, Malaysians like me have been put in a very delicate and sticky situation. So I must be wary of where I am at a particular time, otherwise I would be charged with committing a crime – against who or what, I’m not sure.

My next question. As I’m a Sarawakian, I think I need not plead allegiance to the Sultan of Selangor, or do I? My head of state is the Sarawak Governor. I think that any decree of the Sultan is not binding on me, or does it?

Then again, I’ve also noticed that rulers in the Malay states have different views on the issue. For example, during his investiture ceremony in conjunction with his 66th birthday recently, Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir urged Malaysian Muslims to respect each individual's religion to avoid disharmony, stressing that Islam as a religion teaches men to do good to each other regardless of their background and race.

"In a Malaysian context, the Constitution has set Islam as the official religion of the country without hindering others to practise their own religions. With that, I urge Malaysian Muslims to continue living in harmony with each other and ensuring respect is given to others who practise different religions," the Negeri Sembilan ruler said.

So there is every likelihood that when I’m in Seremban, nobody will take action against me if I utter “Allah”. When I’m in Johor, I must remind myself to mind my language.

When I’m in Penang, I must not even use words like “masjid” and “surau”. What? In Kedah, I must again remind myself that the new, young menteri besar is also against non-Muslims using “Allah”.

Oh dear, I’m confused. Even in my confused state, caused principally by so-called men of God who are probably confused and aided by political leaders who are just as confused, I’m not that confused to comprehend that the confusion is the result of confused followers of God who probably had even God confused as well.

So what should I do now? Continue to be confused by the confused around me and add to the confusion or get out of the confusion with a plan. I think I should do better with the latter.

This is what I will do. I’ve decided not to let others make any decision for me as far as my faith is concerned. It is something personal between me and God. Faith is also about having the courage to let God have control over us and everything.

I’ve decided not to use the term “Allah” even when I know I’m entitled to it. Why? Because I know I can call my God by other names such as Lord, Tuhan, Father, Yahweh, Master and Saviour. I’m sure He does not mind even if I call him “Brother”. Hey, many of us “bro” each other nowadays and I bet God loves this latest term of endearment among men even if it means nothing to many who use it.

Above all, I’m mindful of my Christian teachings of “love thy enemies as thyself” and “when someone strikes you on your left cheek, turn on your right and allow him to strike it too”.

I do not expect my fellow Catholics to agree with what I’ve said as the “Allah” row started with this reference to God in its published form and not in speech. But it has since evolved into something more serious and has given rise to growing religious tension among Malaysians. The row is not only over the use of “Allah” in the Bahasa/Iban Bible or the Herald weekly now. It is threatening the very core of what has kept this multi-racial and multi-religious nation together for decades – religious tolerance and racial harmony.

In any quarrel, one side has to win. There cannot be two winners. The Najib administration attempted to let both sides win by introducing a 10-point solution to the impasse in 2011 but it didn’t work.

I agree wholeheartedly with Raja Petra Kamaruddin, a prominent blogger, when he wrote that “there is no meeting in the middle in this type of situation as one side must win and one side must lose”.

“Either the Allah name is exclusive to Muslims or it is not. If it is, then the Muslims win and the Christians lose. And if it is not, then the Christians win and the Muslims lose.

“A compromise would mean sharing and coexisting. But how do you share and coexist when there is only one name and both want to use it? So only one can have it and the other cannot. And if the name is shared, then one loses while the other side wins,” Raja Petra added in his Malaysia Today blog.

However, I do not agree with him when he stated that “in this type of struggle the one that gives in would be admitting defeat and God does not tolerate compromise because God does not accept defeat”.

I disagree that compromising and admitting defeat is a gross violation of God’s rules because when He taught us to love our enemies as ourselves, the act looks defeatist but in reality, it is a victorious move.

In resolving this dispute, one side has to shut out the negatives of the big brother-small brother relationship, dominance-subservience relationship, the bigotry and the flexing of political muscle. It is an ungodly act when we pretend to “protect” God when the true intention is something else.

As a Christian, I must be mindful that the only way to be better rather than bitter is to extend to others the same grace, love and compassion that God extended to us all through our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

It is in this context that I concede defeat on the “Allah” row so as to allow my Muslim brethren to achieve victory. I hope they are happy now. If our Muslim friends are happy, wouldn’t that make us, Christians, happy too?

May Allah bless all of us.

Francis Paul Siah heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at

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