04 January, 2008

Thank God, I am an Atheist !

The High Court (Appeals and Special Powers Division) here on Friday granted temporary injunction to a snooker centre manager to prevent the Federal Territory Islamic Council (MAIWP) from claiming the remains of his wife who died on Sunday.

Justice Lau Bee Lan made the decision after hearing an ex-parte application by lawyer Karpal Singh who representd the plaintiff, Ngiam Tee Kong, 52, in his chamber.

Lau also allowed Ngiam's application to prevent the Director of Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (HUKM), its agents or staff from handing over the remains of his wife, Mong Sau Lan, 53, to MAIWP.

In the writ of summons filed on Jan 2, Ngiam said Mong died on Dec 30 and her remains were being kept at the HUKM morgue.

Ngiam said they were married in 1979 at the Civil Registration Office, Petaling Jaya, and before her death, his wife was practising Christianity.

He said he had made a claim for his wife's remains at HUKM but was informed (by HUKM) that the handing over of his wife's remains to him was only for the purpose of performing rituals according to the Christian faith and thereafter the body must be returned to MAIWP for a Muslim burial.

Ngiam said he refused to comply with the request and demanded that his wife's remains be handed over to him as the legal husband but the defendant disagreed to do so.

He said that on Dec 31, he had received a letter declaring that his wife had converted to Islam authorised by the Director of the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department and according to the letter, his wife had converted to Islam at a house at the Sri Melaka Flats, Cheras, at 10.45 am on Dec 24, last year and this had been registered at the department on Dec 31 of the same year.

Ngiam claimed that the declaration of conversion to Islam was not in accordance with the law.

Meanwhile, The Malaysian government has reiterated that non-Muslims cannot use the word "Allah," sparking concern Friday among Christians who use it to refer to God in their Malay-language Bible and other publications.

Abdullah Zin, the de facto minister for Islamic affairs, told reporters Thursday that the Cabinet is of the view that "Allah" refers to the Muslim God and can only be used by Muslims, who comprise about 60 percent of Malaysia's population.

"The use of the word 'Allah' by non-Muslims may arouse sensitivity and create confusion among Muslims in the country," Abdullah said.

His statement is the latest twist in a long-drawn controversy involving The Herald, a weekly organ of Malaysia's Catholic Church. It was told by the Internal Security Ministry last month that its Malay-language section would be banned unless it stops using "Allah" as a synonym for God.

In the name of Allah, God of everyone

Bramantyo Prijosusilo, Ngawi, East Java
Jakarta Post.

I used to say to my Western friends, "In Indonesia Christians worship Allah!"

They would often be surprised, as if they had never imagined Christians could worship Allah.

In the West, I have found the word Allah is used to refer to the Islamic God. This God is further mistaken to be a different God than the God worshiped by Christians.

Of course educated people know this is not the case, but the average Western news consumer could be forgiven if they were to make such a mistake.

Historically, Christianity arrived in Indonesia after Islam, so in terms of language, Indonesian Christianity borrows heavily from Islam. In Indonesia, Christians refer to God as Allah, and the biblical Temple of Jerusalem is called Baitallah. Jesus is called Al Masih and the disciples are called Rasul-Rasul. The "daily bread" in the Lord's Prayer is translated as rezeki by Roman Catholics here.

Islamic words in Indonesian Christianity are sometimes used with a slightly different meaning than in Islamic traditions. In Indonesia, without Islam, Christianity would not be what it is today. There were never any problems with this until recently, when a Christian publication in Malaysia was told it could only get its permit renewed if it stopped referring to God as Allah.

I always thought the sharing of theological vocabulary between Christianity and Islam in Indonesia was beautiful. It was something I could be proud of because in my mind, it proved there was some substance to our myth of religious tolerance.

This is why I viewed the news of what happened in Malaysia with concern. I believe the Malaysian authorities are making a grave mistake. As Muslims we know that the Koran states again and again that Allah is the God of Adam and all his descendants and also of the Universe and everything in it.

Islam is a blessing for the universe and not only a blessing for Muslims. Allah is God of all Creation and the idea of a "copyright" over Allah's name is ridiculous.

As a Muslim, I am proud Islam has influenced Christianity here and I think the use of Islamic concepts and words in Christianity is testimony to the Message of Truth. I think Islamic concepts such as ikhlas, tauhid and barakah, for example, are extremely useful when elaborating on spiritual experiences and can be used outside of the Islamic tradition by people of any religious or non-religious denomination.

This is the same as members of the public, including Muslims, using concepts such as Yin-Yang, Tao, Yoga and Zen, or taking phrases out of Buddhist texts such as bhineka tunggal ika (unity in diversity), which is our national motto. If religious groups begin to claim "copyright" over spiritual concepts such as Allah, ikhlas, sembahyang and so on, we will be arguing until after the Day of Judgment.

Should we conduct a world-wide cultural appraisal to determine whether Islam has been robbed of any spiritual or theological concepts? Or should we rejoice and praise Allah when we find an Islamic concept, like hygiene for example, being practiced all over the world, from atheist hospitals in China to the chambers of the Vatican?

Islamic values are universal values and because of that you can find Islamic values in every single culture. Truth, honesty, chivalry, justice, living thoughtfully, being thankful, respecting parents and elders, gentleness in relationships, equality, respect for nature -- just about every value that rings true in life is an Islamic value. At the same time, these values are often held dear in other cultures.

Is the struggle to manifest justice any less sacred if it is undergone by non-Muslims? Are Muslims the only people who look after orphans and other weak members of society? Or have Western countries nursed and cared for their poor better than us?

This type of pedantic behavior reflects a small-mindedness that shouldn't be allowed to influence mainstream interpretations of the teachings of Islam. It comes from the same world view that believes it is possible and desirable to literally replicate Muslim society around the Prophet Muhammad even though of course it is not.

We can't just wear a robe and turban and grow our beards and become like the Prophet. A white cotton robe worn in the Prophet's time is not the same as a white cotton robe worn today. In the older robe you can see the organic cultivation of cotton and the hand spinning and weaving behind it.

In a contemporary cotton robe you have agricultural chemicals, industrial relations, banking, transportation and all the vices of the modern world. So although donning a white robe would make me appear to be dressed like the Prophet, we would share no other resemblances.

In Malaysia, the dangerous idea that Christians should not use the name Allah has been created. A lot of trouble may be stirred up from what appears to be such a small statement. Rather than worry about how other people refer to God, the clever men and women of Malaysia should look at more important problems in their society, including their treatment of migrant workers, race relations and their failures in achieving democracy.

The God of Christians is the same as the God of Muslims and is the same as the God of the Jews. A righteous person before God is a righteous person whether he is Muslim, Christian, Jewish or none of the above. The Almighty is Almighty forever, whatever name one uses for Him. But the idea of imposing a "copyright" over one of His names surely should be viewed as an absurdity.

(The writer is a farmer and artist. He can be reached at bramn4bi@yahoo.com.)

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