On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

An unholy mix

What started off as a Christmas message by DAP leader Lim Guan Eng is now in danger of pushing the country into deeper polarisation. He could not keep politics out even during a religious festival.

The DAP politician had asked that Chris­tians in the peninsula be allowed to use the word “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Bible.

His statement has given rise to much speculation with many believing that Lim made the remark with political intentions – to lock up the Christian vote, especially among the Chinese electorate, and hopefully raise the political temperature among the Christian bumiputras in Sabah and Sarawak.

The issue is not new. There have been many efforts by various individuals to untangle this tricky issue. Religion is always sensitive and emotional, as with all matters dealing with faith. There’s no right or wrong and it is often impossible to look at such matters objectively.

It is a fact that Christians in Sabah and Sarawak have long used the word “Allah” in their worship and Scripture. That has already been established, recognised and accepted.

In the peninsula, some older Baba Christians referred to God as “Tuan Allah” but that is not widely practised. Still, such references are customary and based on cultural rather than religious factors. I am told that the Scripture for the Sikhs also contain references to “Allah”.

Again, such references have been made for a long time, and there has never been a controversy because no one has attempted to make a political issue out of it. It has been a case of live and let live.

Similarly, the fact remains that in most churches in the peninsula, where the services are conducted in English, Mandarin (and other Chinese dialects) or Tamil, the word “God” is mainly used. It is unlikely that the word “Allah” would be used and in most churches, such references would not be made simply because most Christians themselves would feel uneasy if the word “Allah” is used.

But we do have to take note that in the peninsula, there are also church services conducted in Bahasa Malaysia for Sabahans and Sarawakians, as well as for Indonesians, and “Allah” would be used in this context.

Realistically, it is almost impossible to charge any non-Muslim for using the word “Allah” when they pray and, given the complexities of our plural society, no one in his right mind would want to aggravate the situa­tion.

The stand and feelings of the majority Muslims must also be understood and taken into consideration. Many feel uneasy that Christians want to use the word “Allah” and the fact that in PAS, the leaders are split right down the middle on this issue speaks volumes of this controversy.

But today, many churches have become politically charged, and they are standing up for the interests of the Christians whom they believe have not been properly given due respect, especially in their dealings with government officials at federal, state and local government level.

Some pastors and priests have openly used their pulpits to criticise the government on Sundays and on weekdays, many turn to their Facebook to voice their grievances as well. Like the Umno members who once faced the wrath of PAS leaders for working with the MCA and MIC, many Christians who do not support Pakatan Rakyat have been openly humiliated in the various social media.

Many DAP elected representatives are active Christian leaders too, with a few playing the role of lay pastors. Public forums, in the name of educating Christians about their voting rights, are sometimes just a front for a pro-Pakatan Rakyat forum.

Not many are prepared to admit this, and this writer often bears the brunt of such open expression by many churches, both Catholic and Protestant.

I think it is important that no one gets carried away with their e-mail, tweets and FB postings over this issue. Speak with reason but always show respect and sensitivity for the views of others, including the Sultan of Selangor who is responsible for the affairs of Islam in the state.

In the run-up to the general election, which is just weeks away, the politicians will accelerate their campaign to fulfil their ambitions. Everything they do will always be in the interest of the people and never for themselves, so they claim.

It is incredible how many accept the words of some politicians and bloggers as the gospel truth. There are many religious leaders who seem to have forgotten that God is their Saviour and not some selfish, ambitious politician.

Some have treated their sermons like ceramah, the result of attending too many political gatherings perhaps.

Regardless of how we call God, it is important that we focus on our commonalities in serving Him. We are to be His faithful servants and we should be more worried about whether we have grown in our faith, rather than becoming better campaigners or cyber troopers for some politicians.