‘Sultan cannot make rules for non-Muslims’

RK Anand | January 10, 2013
The vocal Bishop Paul Tan says that the Sultan's role is merely to protect Islam. He also underscores the fact that Malaysia is not an Islamic state.
PETALING JAYA: The Sultan of Selangor’s decree that non-Muslims in the state are forbidden from using the term “Allah” has drawn the ire of a senior clergyman, who felt that the ruler has acted in an unfair manner.
Bishop Paul Tan, who heads the Johor and Malacca diocese, said the Sultan’s role was to protect Islam and not to make rules for those of other faiths.
“We non-Muslims have our own heads. Besides, our country is a constitutional or parliamentary democracy not a theocratic state i.e. Islamic state. Our Federal Constitution protects the rights of all our people, not only Muslims,” he told FMT.
Tan also pointed out that the matter was still pending appeal after the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled on Dec 31, 2009 that the ban on non-Muslims using the word “Allah” was illegal.
“As said many a time, historically the word is pre-Islamic and therefore cannot be claimed as a creation of Islam. We also have documents that in the early 17th century, translations of the Bible into Malay, the word ‘Allah’ was used.
“In all countries, except Malaysia, including Arab countries and Indonesia, there is no ban on Christians using the word ‘Allah’,” he said.
“If the Malaysian government forbids people of faiths other than those who profess Islam from using the word ‘Allah’, we would be the laughing stock of more enlightened people in other countries,” he added.
Tan also questioned if the faith of Malaysian Muslims were so fragile that it had to be protected because the use of this word by others would endanger their belief.
“I personally do not think so. How many leaders of this country have been educated in Christian schools and remained faithful to their Islamic faith? Many. By trying to forbid people of faiths other than those who profess Islam from using the word ‘Allah’ on the pretext of protecting the Muslims is actually casting aspersion on Malaysian Muslims for having a weak faith,” he said.
Furthermore, the bishop noted that there were at least three Surahs in the Quran – Surah 2:62,(the Cow), Surah 5:69 (The Table) and Surah 22:17 (the Pilgrimage) that say Jews, Christians and Sabeans believe in “Allah”.
“Sikhs have also clearly declared that their holy scriptures use the word ‘Allah’. There is only one God who created everyone and everything, there are no two Gods. It is only human beings who understand the Almighty in different and variegated ways,” he added.

Politicians to blame
Responding to a question, Tan, who was the immediate past president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, blamed politicians for the imbroglio.
“There is actually no predicament. It is created by politicians for their political ends. Any rational human being would allow any person to use any word he or she wants provided it does not disparage others,” he said.
“By saying what I am saying, I am not advocating that Christians must use the word ‘Allah’. But, I hold that people of faiths other than those professing Islam should not be forbidden to use the word if they so wish, just as the word ‘God’ can have various and different nuances in accordance to who uses it, it has not created confusion among people of the different faiths, so it should be with the word ‘Allah’.
“A word is a word and its meaning can change in different places and from time to time, and this has never created any problems,” he added.
Human words, said the bishop, might change in meaning and people could inject connotations and even meaning into words, even into the word “God” or “Allah” but God remains the same.
“’Allah’ cannot change just because we humans can put nuances into the word. Problems are generated by humans, not by ‘Allah’.
“Words are human creation. God does not use human words. The Almighty, use whatever word you want, is beyond human words because the Absolute is Spirit,” he added.
On Tuesday, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) had stated that non-Muslims in the state were forbidden from using the word “Allah”.
“The Sultan of Selangor Sharafuddin Idris Shah decreed that non-Muslims are forbidden from using the word ‘Allah’ as mentioned by His Majesty on Feb 18, 2010, as the name is a sacred word for Muslims,” MAIS secretary Mohd Misri Idris had said.
On the same day, Pakatan Rakyat, which includes the Islamic party PAS, revealed that the coalition had no qualms about non-Muslims using the term provided that it was not misused.

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