14 January, 2010

"who wants to be tolerant, we want to be respected."

Lawyers represent the Herald have said their offices were ransacked in the latest attack apparently linked to a dispute over the use of the word "Allah" to describe God.

A church in southern Johor state was also attacked with unknown assailants throwing red paint at the building before dawn.

A day earlier a Sikh temple was attacked, apparently because Sikhs also refer to God as "Allah".

At least eight other churches have been firebombed or vandalised since the court ruling allowing the Malaysian Catholic weekly newspaper, the Herald, to use the word "Allah" to refer to God in its Malay-language edition.

There is no law prohibiting the use of 'Allah' among non-Muslims, the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council said today.

Its president Harcharan Singh said the preamble to the Selangor Non Muslim Enactment 1988 states that the law is meant to control and restrict the propogation of non-Islamic religious doctrines and beliefs among persons professing the Islamic faith.

"There is no law to stop non-Muslims from using it in their own publications meant for members of their own faith," said Harcharan.

He said High Court judge Lau Bee Lan made it clear in her judgment that the publication or use of the term 'Allah' is only prohibited if it is meant to propogate non-Islamic faiths to Muslims.


Malaysia is a country with a lot of diversity. It is a plural society.

This diversity is God’s will. The Quran says that if God wants it He could have made you one community. He said: We made you tribes and nations so that you may know one another.

It is God’s will. It is, therefore, not enough to tolerate others. We must respect them. As one prominent scholar said in one conference "who wants to be tolerant, we want to be respected."

In Islam the word, therefore, is respect, not tolerate. Who are we to tolerate? This is God’s will for me to be here. So it is for Muslims to understand that because Allah wanted Christianity, wanted Judaism, and Buddhism and atheists and anarchists to be here it is for them to respect God’s will. To respect means "I acknowledge the fact that you are here, I acknowledge the fact that you have to be respected – and more than that – I am asked by Allah that I have to know you, which is a two-way process of acknowledgment. Respect is to acknowledge you and know you that you are different and to know about you. My knowledge towards you is an act of respect." So, tolerance is not enough. We must remember that diversity is God’s will.

If you travel around the world, in the Arab world, "Allah" is used by all Christians – Coptics and others. To us, Allah is the one God who sent us the prophets Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. When we use Arabic, we say "Allah", when speak in English, we say "God" and when we speak French, we say "Deus".

The point is the substance and the substance is one God. We are using the language to say it. Some of the scholars coming from the literalist trend, the Salafiya-al Harfiyat, say that Allah is a very specific name.

The majority of the Muslims are using the word "God" when they speak English and the other words in other languages. Allah is not the God of the Arabs but Allah is the only God of all human beings. This is what we are saying.

When we speak other languages, you change by knowing what you are talking about and we understand that He is like nothing we can imagine Him to be. Therefore we cannot describe Him. So when I speak English, I do not have a problem saying "God" and in French I say "Deus" and that’s it.

When the Christian Arabs speak Arabic, in their Bible, they use "Allah" to speak about God. So, you cannot deprive them using this as this has been the case for centuries and in Arabic, God is Allah.

The Roman Catholics among them do not use "Allah" to describe Jesus. There is no problem there. And my understanding of their general hypothesis is that the Trinity is Three in One but they are not confusing the three dimensions of One God. If that is not a problem for them neither is it for us.

But we must also be aware that the Christians, depending on traditions that they are following, are promoting the concept of the Trinity. Each group has its own truth or understanding of it.

- Professor Tariq Ramadan

Professor Tariq Ramadan is a European Muslim who advocates reform in Islam and promotes interfaith dialogue. Born in Switzerland and the grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood founder, Hassan Al Banna, the European academic has been named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most important innovators of the century.

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