Soeharto looks like he might pull through.  Again.  I was speaking to a guy who works outside the building I work in, and he said that Soeharto will never die because of his wahyu, which you might loosely translate as a type of divine wisdom and power.  Very Javanese, that.

But that’s not stupid.  What’s stupid is what’s happening currently in Malaysia.  Currently, the Malaysian government is launching an attack against a Catholic newspaper in Malaysia that publishes a Malay language version, and in that Malay language version, uses the word "Allah" to refer to God.  Najib Tun Razak, the Deputy PM there, is leading this charge by saying that Muslims are going to get angry if Christians start using Allah instead of the traditional Austronesian word, which is Tuhan.  He’s not mentioned in the article, but he’s been all over BBC news explaining these things, and as I have argued in the past, Najib has historically been linked with Malay "ultras," or nationalists.

While I don’t want to editorialize too much, I….OK whatever, let me editorialize.  This is stupid.  People have been calling their mono-deity "Allah" in the Middle East since long before Islam was a religion.  All over the Muslim world, Christians call God "Allah": in Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and in many parts of Indonesia.  Indonesia and Malaysia are different in that there is a pre-existing local term for God, whereas in places like Lebanon/Iraq/Egypt, the local form of Arabic is the local language.  Muslims in the Middle East don’t complain about Christians using the word Allah.  Neither do Indonesians.  So why should Malays?  Moreover, it’s been 700 years since Islam has been in Malaysia, and not once has someone thought to get angry about a non-Muslim saying Allah to describe his God.

So what’s the deal here?  Politics.  In not too long, Malaysia is set to have a general election, and the regime is doing its best to rally together its biggest constituents, Malays.  Najib especially has the role of "enforcer" in this situation, so he’s looking for ways to display his "pro-Malay" credentials.  All Malays are Muslims by law in Malaysia.  It’s a sad commentary that this is what passes for pro-Malay credentials.  Of course, the unintended consequence is that this is going to further inflame ethnic tensions in the country by further reinforcing the overlap between Islam and Malay-ness.  So now that Najib has made this an issue, we WILL find people deciding that they are angry about non-Muslims saying Allah.  A political issue will have been created out of nothing, and for political purposes.

Comments 6

  1. Mom January 7, 2008

    So you are saying that a Catholic publication written in Malay is referring to the Christian God as Allah? Can you imagine how Western Christians would react if they knew this? Has anybody informed the Pope?

  2. Catherine January 7, 2008

    The Pope? Has anyone informed Billy Graham or the “New Church of God?” I can’t wait to hear what my Bush supporting, baptist, bible-thumping, holier than thou military wife friend has to say about that! According to her Jesus was a Christian and not Jewish. Whoo Hoo!!! This will make for a fun staff meeting!

  3. Matt G January 8, 2008

    Geesh…next thing you know, Jews will be demanding “Amen” back and Methodists will be brining patent-lawsuits against those who eat plain jello.

  4. lynn everhart January 8, 2008

    Tom, so how did this democracy develop so well? Was there no tribe issue as there is in Iraq?

  5. JeffW January 8, 2008

    Imagine, a political candidate brazenly and irresponsibly inciting religious tensions solely to puff up his own “credentials” and to rally his core constituents, who heretofore perhaps didn’t even “know” they had this point of contention with those who support the candidate’s opponent.
    By the way, IS it true that Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?

  6. Tom January 8, 2008

    Yeah, the problem here is that it’s just not that abnormal to have someone playing politics like this, and you can imagine people in the United States being just as upset. I bet you that Barack HUSSEIN Obama calls God “Allah.”
    The problem with Malaysia is that it’s not a democracy. Having elections isn’t sufficient, although it’s necessary. Malaysians don’t have “tribal issues” per se, but that’s because the relevant political cleavage is not within the Malay community, but between Malays and non-Malays.

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