after david hockney
digital plrint on paper, 2009
The Malays, Allah, God and attacked on the churches.
It is 0 degrees here in Copenhagen and the news that I read about Malaysia the last couple of days has somewhat gave me the heat to cope up with the unusual cold winter weather that has hit Denmark and Europe.. The heat is the news I read from the online newspapers about a church in Kuala Lumpur that has been burnt and a few more that were attacked by an unknown group of people.
Nobody has came out to claim the attacks but it is believed that the controversy came after the court decision to allow the use of the name ‘Allah’ to Catholic newspaper, The Herald. It has marked a black day to Malaysia, a multicultural societies that have been living side by side for hundreds of years and a huge step back for racial harmony.
But I am not totally surprised by the attacks because racial tension has been there in the country all the time. It was just a matter of time before it exploded again. On 13st of May 1969, a riot broke up in Kuala Lumpur between the two largest groups of people inhabiting Malaysia. These two groups are the Malays who made up 60 % of the population and Chinese who are about 29%. This riot ended up with hundreds of people being killed which brought the country to a state of emergency. The cause of this riot was cited because of the New Economic Policy, which was introduced by the government that gives special privileges to the Malay who were perceived to be more poor and rural than the Chinese. But for many years now the biggest income gaps are not between the Chinese and the Malays but among the Malays themselves. So class differences are also more of concern to most Malaysian than ethnicity.
But the problem is made more delicate than the above. The federal constitution states that Malay is Islam and Islam is Malay which states that a Malay is a person who professes to be a Muslim and habitually speaks the Malay language and adhere to the Malay customs. Based on this, the federal and state government administer, plan and implement various governance policies, touching every aspects of the Malay-Muslim religious life.
To the Malays the word Allah is everything from the pillar of religion, faith, norms and values in life, as the Malays are automatically Muslim. They are born and die as a Muslim. The Malays are very sensitive with regards to issues concerning Islam as the feel that they own Islam and the social propriety ship couldn’t be question.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Professor of Social Anthropology Prof Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin said ‘ the social reality complexity of Malays in leading the Islamic way of life becomes more difficult when Islam has been turned into a symbol and political ideology, adding that it has brought political Islam into the global arena and further worsened the situation’.
The Malays feeling towards the word Allah are quite similar to the feeling of Muslims all over the world toward their prophet Muhammad. Muhammad means everything to them and in many cases more than their own family. So it is not surprise if some of them would do anything in order to protect their prophet and their religion.
Since religions and matters regarding the special privileges given to the Malays are sensitive issues to talk about, Malaysians in general don’t questions or discuss about it so much among themselves. What happened is that tensions about inequality and injustice keep building up and that it is very difficult for them to trust each other. But the reality is most people don’t want to create problems. Ironically, people here are united and will trust each other in corruptions activities. The rich Malays, rich Chinese and rich Indians will work and agree with each other when they feel that they all can get something out of it. It all boils down to their own benefit. Here we see that there is this class struggle rather than ethnicity.
The problems also lay in the system in which produce differences and polarization and this started in vernacular school which we spend 13 years and was send to our respective ethnic groups.
Malaysia has been blessed by its multi cultural societies, and people with different religions and beliefs, living and working together for hundreds of years, but this blessing is in danger of being lost because we are only like to see our own navel, and failed to see what is a round us, so despite travelling a lot, many of us are still ignorant.
There are a large number of people in Malaysia, particularly the Malays who against the use of the word Allah by non Muslim. In Facebook a group called ‘ Opposing the use of the name Allah by non-Muslim’ have about 200,000 members and growing . Peaceful demonstrations are being held in mosques to support the idea.. This way of thinking is similar to a group of people here in Denmark. Lead by Pia Kjærsgaard of the Danish Folk Party who only thinks that Denmark is only for ethnic Danish and everyone else should conform to the Danish values or they should leave the country.. There is some truth in that because in order to have contact with human full’s potential, the immigrant has to somewhat learn or embrace their new environment that they are living in and at the same time retain their own culture. But it has to work both ways. Pia Kjærsgaard and her party members has to open up and learn about other people and their cultures. If she keeps her door closed, than her world and those people alike will be a bit smaller, a bit narrower and a bit lonelier.
A big wall is built in the name of Allah, God. Miles Davis says’ we don’t own anything’. Only if we all could learn that we don’t really own anything in this world , than we will be a free man. Otherwise we will be a prisoner of our own conscience.