The Controversy over Kalimah Allah should never have gone to Court. An adversarial system of adjudication which pits one side against the other cannot resolve satisfactorily complex disputes that intersect notions of religious and ethnic identity.
In fact, the controversy which has burdened us for almost three decades is more about protecting identity than about preserving the sanctity of a hallowed term. It is fear about how identity would be undermined if what is perceived as an exclusive religious symbol is usurped by others that has triggered a strong reaction from the Muslim majority. Christians and others who have taken a position against Muslim sentiment are also motivated to a great extent by the prevailing ethnic divide in the country.
Expectedly, the stances adopted by some politicians, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have exacerbated the situation. Because issues of identity are at the centre of politics and power in our multi-religious, multi-ethnic nation, they are hoping to reap a harvest from the Kalimah Allah controversy. In the process, society is becoming even more polarised along religious lines.
This is why politicians and religious leaders should desist immediately from misconstruing the Court of Appeal decision on the use of Kalimah Allah in the Catholic weekly, The Herald, which has no bearing upon other Christian publications or the Al-Kitab, the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Bible. It is wrong of them to demand that the ban on the term in the Catholic weekly be extended to Sabah and Sarawak where it has been used in daily prayers in churches for more than a hundred years. Since the Catholic Church is appealing against the decision in the Federal Court, all individuals and groups should allow the judicial process to take its course.
More important, Prime Minister, Dato Sri Mohd Najib should assure everyone that he is determined to uphold the letter and the spirit of the ‘10 point solution’ that he had signed on 11 April 2011 in which he spelt out his commitment to the exercise of the freedom of religion of the Christian minority within the context of the Malaysian Constitution. It is a significant document in the shape of a letter to the Chairperson of the Christian Federation of Malaysia because it provides guarantees to a minority that resonate with the tradition of Muslim Rulers protecting the position of Christian and other minorities that harkens back to the Prophet Muhammad’s (may peace be upon him) celebrated treaty with the Christians of Najran. Christians in Malaysia should at the same time see the 10 point solution as an arrangement which expects them also to understand and empathise with the feelings of an extraordinarily accommodative majority community which has genuine concerns about its identity. For these reasons, highlighting the 10 point solution at this juncture would help considerably to reduce the prevailing mistrust and suspicion between the majority and minority communities.
In the ultimate analysis however what really matters is not who uses the term Allah but whether all of us are willing to strive to the utmost to perform those good deeds which alone demonstrate our love for Allah.