There are major contradictions in the claim that the word ‘Allah’ belongs only to Muslims and Islam and does not apply to non-Muslims and other religions (Jakim), and in the insistence that non-Muslims must convert to Islam to use the word ‘Allah’ (Perak’s mufti Harussani Zakaria).
The contradictions are as follows:
1. If we disallow non-Muslims from using the word ‘Allah’, are we implying that Allah has no relation to the non-Muslims, that Allah did not create the non-Muslims, but to whom Allah must belong if He is the Creator of all things?
2. If we say Allah is not the god of the non-Muslims, does this not imply that besides Allah there must exist a second god specifically for the non-Muslims, the former god of Muslim converts? Does this not clash with the Islamic concept of tauhid, which proposes that there cannot possibly be another god apart from Allah, and that no being can perform the work of a god other than Allah?
3. If we maintain that ‘Allah’ has no relevance to other religions, who then ultimately created these religions if not Allah, the Creator of all things? Are we suggesting that Allah got it wrong before unveiling Islam?
But if tauhid is to stand and Allah is the sole Creator, and if Allah is infallible, perfect and all-knowing, does it not mean that Allah happily created, with no games intended, all the variety of religions and religious philosophies including Christianity and Hinduism?
4. Therefore how can it be wrong for a Hindu, a Christian or a freethinker to refer to ‘Allah’ as our one common god? Must Sikhs, who are not Muslims, stop using the word ‘Allah’, though 'Allah' appears numerous times in their holy book, which is not the al-Quran?
5. If non-Muslims must convert to Islam before referring to ‘Allah’, is that to say Allah was not their Creator prior to them converting? But how can that be if Allah created everything and there is no god other than Allah? If we say non-Muslims are non-believers who do not recognise Allah, then why deny them the use of the word ‘Allah’ to recognise this Supreme Being and Ultimate Cause?
The restrictions on the use of ‘Allah’ conflict with the core tenets of Islam. They conflict also with those of other religions.
Open and respectful discourse
Therefore we need an open and respectful discourse involving all the affected groups in this matter.
This is to attain a better understanding of Islam, of other religions, of the nature of religion and god in general, and of the reality of living in a multi-religious society.
It is not enough for Islamic religious officials alone to convene and make decisions. Blindly accepting this or that authority’s unilateral interpretations or decrees cannot be the way to go. A resolution can only be found collectively.
It is thus necessary for each of us and all of us to question, discuss and learn widely to get closer to the truth. This is an essential counsel in Islam and in other religions.
It is clear that the exclusivist mentality of “this is for us, not for them, we are not the same so we cannot share” is not sustainable. It must be discarded.
We cannot escape from pursuing a broad-minded vision of religion that celebrates diversity and emphasises the shared values and other similarities across faiths.
PAK SAKO is an economist and an academic. This article was originally published by the Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI) on its website.