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Divining the laws in faith

Publication Date : 08-01-2014

 

As the debate on religious freedom can transcend legal arguments it should also be seen from a theological perspective.

Reading the news in the past few weeks has evoked many feelings. But chief amongst them, for me at least, is the profound feeling of sadness.

Sadness that acts devoid of common decency and compassion are supported not only by a sizeable portion of our society, but also by government agencies.

I am of course speaking about the recent attacks on the Christian community in Malaysia over the use of the name of God.

I could raise the fact that Article 3 of our Constitution guarantees everyone the right to practise their religion peacefully. So, if the Christian community have been using the word Allah for God, in a peaceful manner, in respectful worship, then it is their right to do so.

I could also point out that the Constitution does allow lawful limitations on religious freedom. It states that there can be control of the propagation of religion to Muslims.

This provision is very clear: if state or federal law prescribes it, then nobody can propagate any religious teachings to Muslims, without due authority.

There are laws in Selangor which prescribe such control. But these laws can only be used if there is non-authorised propagation to Muslims. Raiding a premises and taking away Bibles is utterly wrong because there was no act of propagation being done.

I could raise all these legal points until I am blue in the face, but the fact remains that it is not legal niceties which are the issue here.

Malay Muslims in this country are not going to be convinced by Constitutional legal arguments.

For many, this is a matter of faith and their community leaders have told them that it is wrong for non-Muslims to use Allah when describing God. To say or think otherwise would be a sin.

This mind-set of simply obeying a person with a hint of religious authority is something I am familiar with.

I was after all raised a Muslim in this country. But to understand the mind-set is not the same as agreeing with it.

I am loathe to tell anyone what to think, but here I would like to humbly ask the Muslims reading this, those who have not made their minds up one way or the other, to please look at the Quran. There is no theological basis for banning anyone from using the word Allah. Nowhere in the holy book does it say that “Allah” is exclusive to Muslims.

In fact Surah 22:40 (Al-Hajj) states that the name Allah is used in all sorts of houses of worship: mosques, churches, monasteries and synagogues.

And just because a figure in authority gives an opinion, it is merely that, an opinion. A fatwa is a person’s opinion; it is not the word of God.

There are many opinions on this matter. The ones being made by the faith leaders in this country are not the only ones.

People have been given minds in order to think for themselves. It is a feature of Islam that there is no priesthood; there is no papacy, no middleman between people and God.

There is instead a presumption, right from the beginning that all people take responsibility for their own faith and their own learning.

And when studying this issue, when seeking out alternative opinions, ponder this: Is Islam a religion which condones the attack of other faiths? Is it a religion that is so small in its worldview that it can approve of one community claiming the term for God for itself? Is Islam so lacking in common decency and compassion?

I don’t think it is and I will not be accepting any opinion that says otherwise, for a religion without the decency to respect other faiths, without the compassion to not attack other faiths, would be in my view a very poor thing indeed.

 

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