Monday, January 18, 2010

A letter to a Muslim friend

JAN 19 — Recently, someone whom I consider a very close and trusted friend, and who is a Muslim, wrote an email to me with a very simple question: “What was The Herald asking for exactly?”

As someone who knew what the issue was from the start, having once been a freelance contributor to The Herald, I gathered my thoughts and spoke to a few relevant people and started writing down the facts of the whole issue.

Instead of the creative and open writing style that is normally employed in any article, I decided to keep it strictly to the point with the facts itself, following the style of a former prime minister whose blog name is one letter short of the anagram for the word “CHEATED”, which is rather ironic since many of us still feel that way over events of the past 28 years.

Anyway, this was my letter to that Muslim friend.

Dear brother Malaysian,

I wish all Muslims (and even some non-Muslims) were like you, stopping to ask what the issue was instead of playing straight into the tactics of people (and some media) who have personal and political agendas. Here are the facts of the issue, which I am sure will answer your question easily.

  1. The Herald has been around for more than 15 years.

  2. The Herald was first published in English only.

  3. By the late 1990s, there already was a Bahasa Malaysia edition, which occasionally contained the term “Allah”.

  4. Upon request, and to meet growing demand, Tamil and Chinese editions were added simply to allow Catholics who were more familiar with those two languages to have their community news and spiritual guidance explained for their better understanding. These editions covered a few pages respectively.

  5. Likewise, the thousands of East Malaysian students in government universities in Peninsula Malaysia, who are active in the Catholic Students Society in their respective universities, had requested to have pages added in Bahasa Malaysia (BM).

  6. These East Malaysians students over the past 15 years were naturally those who were educated completely under the Bahasa Malaysia medium and with little exposure to English (for the majority of them).

  7. In addition to the students, thousands of East Malaysians have been flocking to the Klang Valley for better prospects and simply to “cari makan”, just like other Malaysians from all over the peninsula. Again, the majority would be BM-educated and more comfortable worshiping in Bahasa Malaysia than in English.

  8. Like for the Tamil and Chinese editions, the East Malaysians naturally wanted the Bahasa Malaysia edition to be about their own community news, besides some local and global Catholic church news translated from English to Bahasa Malaysia.

  9. Bahasa Malaysia was, after all, their common denominator, i.e. the national language, propagated by the government themselves over all other languages since the late 1970s (hmmm . . . I wonder who was the education minister who started it all).

  10. The East Malaysians themselves wrote the original content and translated some of the English pages in The Herald to Bahasa Malaysia. One can easily surmise this from the writers’ by-lines as well as from the “Letters to the Editor” in the Bahasa Malaysia edition since its beginnings, around 12 years ago.

  11. If these East Malaysians used “Allah” in their praise and worship all their lives — as did their parents, grandparents and the generations before them — it would only be natural that they would write their articles and reflections, as well as do translations, using the only word they know for the “Lord our God”, the God of Abraham and Moses. The one Almighty God.

  12. The word “Allah” was never and will never be used to refer to Jesus in any Bahasa Malaysia translation. That is one blatant piece of misinformation that so many peninsula Malaysian Muslims have been wrongly led to believe.

  13. When former Home Minister Datuk Syed Hamid Albar imposed a blanket ban on the use of the word “Allah” in The Herald, as well as on imported Christian Bibles and other literature in both print and multimedia formats from Indonesia, the church appealed.

  14. 14. After appeals and all other avenues failed, the Catholic Church had no choice but to go to court because it is a basic deprivation of human rights in not allowing East Malaysian Christians the right to worship God in a manner they have used to worship Him all their lives and for generations past.

  15. The Herald just wants the right for their Klang Valley-based East Malaysian readers to practise their faith, and share their community information, while learning about their own faith, in the only language they share, being as they are from various Bumiputera groups, and as how they have been practicing it all these years.

  16. The Herald is only sold within church grounds, and has also complied with government requests to have “TERHAD (restricted)” and “FOR NON-MUSLIMS ONLY” on the cover, even if it was never to be sold or distributed outside church grounds in the first place.

  17. The greatest lie being repeated over and over again, by ministers, morally-corrupt politicians, some Muslim scholars, some government-controlled media as well as misinformed members of the public is that the church started using the term “Allah” in The Herald since only a few years ago.

  18. The other great lie is that the term is also intended for use in the English edition.

Thanks again for asking your very important question, my brother.

Please do enlighten your fellow Muslim brothers and sisters on how it all started and why it was a non-issue, then made into an issue by the government, and now has become the biggest possible threat to Malaysian unity, peace and harmony, after more than 50 years of independence.


Take care and God bless.


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