In multi-ethnic Malaysia, we tend to borrow words from each other. In fact many words that have come into the Malay dictionary are from foreign sources such as Arabic, Sanskrit, Portuguese, Dutch and of course English. Just watch some Hindustani movies and you will come across words such as “murka” which means angry though it is normally subscribed to royalty language, and the word “dunia” which means “this world or is it “universe”?.
The words sepatu (shoes), almari (cupboard) and kemeja (shirt) come from the Malacca conquerors in the 16th and 17th centuries, obviously influenced by the writings of Munshi Abdullah, the famous early Malay writer.
Some Malay words are generally spoken in the Malay archipelago. You will see them spoken in Tagalog in the Southern Philippines as well. And due to early movement of people through travel and slavery, you can find some Malay words being used in South Africa among the so-called “cape Malays” and also those in Christmas island.
There is no word for “take-away” in Malay so the urban Malays borrow the Chinese word of “ta pau” for it. I am sure many other words can be found in this category. This is Malaysia.
An so before the arrival of the Arab traders on Malayan shores, bringing with them their faith and spreading it to the “natives”, paganism would have been the order of the day. What did they call their God? One wonders. But with the Hindu earlier influence in Malaya then ( the kingdom of Majapahit and Langkasuka), one would expect they prayed to several deities. As our history is unlike the Middle East, China, Japan and Europe where recorded histories are preserved and civilizations mapped out. Our history tends to begin with the British colonisation of Malaya. Yes we talked about the great Empire of Malacca and the “Hang Tuah” where facts and fantasy are intermingling.
And so the word “Allah” is definitely an Arabic word or is it earlier than the coming of Islam. If you read “The History of God” by Karen Armstrong, you would see that from her extensive research of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism,Christianity and Islam, the word E-Lah was used well before Islam. In fact Coptic Christians in Egypt use the word “Allah” to refer to their God. Though I must point out that Orthodox Christians and the Catholic differ on the concept of Trinity which was not there during the time of Jesus. There lies the difference. In Islam, Jesus is not the son of Allah!
As Marina Mahathir says in her blog, confident Muslim will not feel threaten with the use of “Allah” by non-Muslim but unfortunately the larger masses are not that confident. The extreme among them would do anything to the extent of jeopardizing the harmony of the people. As we can see with the bombing of churches. The feeling of the insecure and the uneducated is truly incendiary. They have nothing to lose.
This issue has to be handled intelligently. It should have not been politicized to win the hearts and minds of certain groups while alienating others. The reigning party leadership should have been firm and quickly identify the related NGOs and rein in their leaders. The apparently slow action has resulted in the unfortunate bombings tarnishing the international image of Malaysia and possibly driving away foreign investors.
The extremists who act this way cannot appreciate the need for harmony for economic growth. They widen the gap between the races and again they do not care. But why? One may need to look at the education system in this country. The proliferation of certain schools is a cause for concern. To think that the person who started this trend in the early eighties is now the leader of the opposition is rather mind-boggling.
In Switzerland the people voted not to allow the building of the minaret, do we dare in Malaysia to vote not to allow non-Muslim to use the word “Allah“? I really pray we do not have to come to that.
The use of the word “Allah” in print in a Christian Newsletter seem to be offensive to some Muslim masses. Perhaps this could be deferred indefinitely but the use of “Allah” in their sermons especially in churches in East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak should not be banned as they have been using this term long before they joined Malaya to become Malaysia in 1963. To order a ban is tantamount to interfering with their faith. By the way, do the insecure and the non-confident in West Malaysia know about this? Or, more frighteningly, do they care?