Sunday, January 19, 2014


Dear Friends and members

Clamouring for the Almighty

The ‘Allah’ controversy rages on relentlessly in this beloved land of ours, wreaking havoc to the very fabric of multiethnic and multireligious Malaysia.

The recent controversial Jais raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia and confiscation of the latter’s 321 copies of AlKitab only raises the already hot political temperature in the country. In this regard, constitutional lawyer Tommy Thomas feels that this incident is indicative of a government, both federal and (Selangor) state, that has failed its people in its approach to, and management of, religious matters.

Incidentally, ‘Allah’ is not the only word that is placed in the no-go area for non-Muslims. In Penang, the religious authority there has also banned non-Muslims from using 40 words purportedly Islamic in nature.

To be sure, the questionable Jais raid has raised concerns among Muslims as well. Deeply disturbed by this incident that is seen to have caused social fissures, Parit Buntar MP Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, for example, made a clarion call to adherents of all religious traditions in the country to respect one another’s holy books, including the Bible, and to protect the right to one’s holy tome.

Equally concerned about this controversy is fellow Muslim and Aliran member Syerleena Abdul Rashid who feels that religious insecurities among certain followers have been exploited to the hilt by bigots as well as certain politicians and religious leaders, for reasons best known to themselves.

Constraining freedom of expression

In important matters particularly religion, politics and the economy, it is crucial that freedom of expression is allowed and protected so that civilised dialogue, debate and constructive engagement can be encouraged in the effort to seek solutions and mutual understanding.

As always, however, the government resorts to clamping down on discussions. For example, the Home Ministry recently banned Comango (Coalition of Malaysian NGOs) presumably because the latter was critical in their assessment of the human rights situation in Malaysia when making their deliberations at the Universal Periodic Review at the UN in Geneva. In response, Aliran condemned this undemocratic action - particularly when religion has been used, or abused, as justification for this ban.

And as if taking the cue from the federal government, satellite television broadcaster Astro apparently censored the word ‘Allah’ in a Bollywood movie ‘Pukar’ that was screened for Malaysian viewers recently. In particular, two lines in a Hindi song in ‘Pukar’ that read: “he ishwar ya allaah yeh pukaar sun le” (god, Allah, listen to this cry) and “he ishwar ya allaah he data” (Oh God, Allah, Supreme Being).

But keeping mum - or an “elegant silence” (as some charitably call it) - over vital and urgent matters such as religion, race and the economy is no longer an option for government leaders, especiallyPrime Minister Najib Razak, especially when these issues have caused disquiet among ordinary Malaysians.

Many Malaysians have called upon Najib to intervene, show effective leadership and say the right things about particular issues of the day. For example, Aliran president Dr Francis Loh called on Najib to speak out clearly on the ‘Allah’ issue. State assembly member for Damansara Utama, Yeo Bee Yin, challenged Najib to state his stand on pressing matters such as the ‘Allah’ controversy in her open letter to the prime minister.

Even Najib’s brother, Nazir Razak, interjected to call on all concerned Malaysians, presumably including his Prime Minister brother, to work together towards putting the country back on track in the wake of the worrying levels of inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic tensions in the country. Writing in memory of the death of his father 38 years ago, Nazir asked Malaysians to return to “pangkal jalan”.

The kangkung cock-up

Indeed, right-thinking Malaysians are hoping for Najib to get out of his comfort zone and speak out like a conscientious leader for all Malaysians.

But little did they expect that Najib would turn over a new leaf by ranting over the reduced price of kangkung! Can we then blame Malaysians, particularly netizens, for having responded negatively in various creative ways (such as this and this) to this premier rant? This kangkung of a cock-up didn’t escape the attention of the international media such as the BBC, the reporting of which was apparently censored in Malaysia for a while.

So, as you can see, we at Aliran are still not sure whether to really wish you a Happy New Year even though the recent kangkung episode may have put a smile on your face!

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In solidarity

Mustafa K Anuar