KUALA LUMPUR: The controversy over the High Court decision last week allowing a Catholic weekly to use the word “Allah” should be handled not only through legal proceedings but also sociologically, said a social scientist.

Prof. Dr Shamsul Amri

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Professor of Social Andiropology Prof Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin said outlandish remarks made by certain quarters without grasping the issue, could worsen the situation.

As it is a delicate issue, he said it must be addressed carefully as it could lead to a far-reaching implication on ethnic relations and threaten public order.

On Wednesday, the High Court granted the Home Ministry a stay of execution on the ruling allowing the Herald weekly magazine to use the word “Allah” in its Malay-language edition, pending the hearing of an appeal.

Prof. Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri, who is also UKM Director of the Institute of the Malay World and Civilization, said the solution could be found by determining the aspects that should be analysed and to what extent all quarters can discuss the matter rationally.

The question boils down to why Malay-Muslims oppose the court decision openly or quietly?

This must be seen from the historical-social reality, said Shamsul Amri by pointing out Article 160 of the Federal Constitution, which stated that, a Malay is a person who “professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks the Malay language, adheres to Malay customs.”

Based this clause and other related provisions including Article 3 and Article 11 (4), the state and federal governments administer, plan and implement various governance policies, touching on every aspects of the Malay-Muslims religious life.

“This has become Muslims psychic unity, which is difficult to erase, that is Islam is Malays, Malays is Islam,” he said, adding that to Malays the world “Allah” is everything, from the pillar of religion to faith, norms and values in their life.

“The label Malay-Muslim is most apt to categorise the Malays in the country but it is seldom used as it has been generally accepted that Malays are automatically Muslims,” he said.

This is different from ethnic Malays in Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, southern Thailand, southern Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Africa and other Malay diasporas where Malays are not automatically regarded as Muslims because of the different in their social identity.

He said from sociological standpoint, the Malays in the country were very sensitive on issues involving Islam as they felt that they owned Islam and the social proprietyship could not be questioned.

“As they feel that they own ‘Allah’, they feel that they know Allah and hold the rights to discuss about it.

“They are born Islam or Muslim, live Islamic-Muslim life and die in Islam or as a Muslim.. This is the Malaysian historical-social reality,” he added.

The social reality complexity of Malays in leading the Islamic way of life became more difficult when Islam has been turned into a symbol and political ideology, he said, adding that it brought the political Islam into the global arena and further worsen the situation.

“For example, many Malay-Muslims could not differentiate that the Palestinian struggle is a nationalist struggle, not an Islamic struggle, as not all Palestinians are Muslims,” he said.

Maybe this scenario explained why Malay-Muslims reacted negatively when a Catholic weekly was allowed to use the word “Allah” for “God” in its Malay publication. The weekly is published in four languages.

Before the High Court decision on Dec 31 and a stay of execution on the ruling on Wednesday, the Home Ministry barred the weekly from using of the word “Allah” for security reason and to prevent confusion among Muslims.

For UKM Institute of the Malay World and Civilization principal fellow Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, he felt that the issue could be resolved through discussions and dialogues among religious leaders and the communities with the government acting as mediator.

He said the government must solve the issue wisely through the 1Malaysia concept by focusing on the principles of recognition, nationhood and social justice.

“All is not lost but the government has to be really sincere in solving the root problem and mediating the issues,” he said by linking the issue to the success of the 1Malaysia concept in restoring confidence in the people, including minority groups.

He said freedom of expression should be manipulated for political gains as it would could worsen the conflict. — BERNAMA