Charity -The theological virtue defined as love directed first toward God but also toward oneself and one’s neighbors as objects of God’s love. -Dictionary
Having used the word ‘Allah‘ in a poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking At Malaysia” inspired by Wallace Stevens, published in the Asia Literary Review, Hong Kong, in the Autumn Issue 2008, I am uniquely qualified to speak to the current situation. Malay-Muslims are objecting to the use of this word by non-Muslims and in retaliation for having been taken to court over it, by the Catholic weekly, they are burning churches and committing acts of violence.
Looking back, I would concede to the Malaysian Government, their claim on this word, ‘Allah‘ for Muslims only and commit to using the word, Tuhan’. Both words mean God, and the Malaysian Muslims are seeking to distinguish ‘their’ religion from say, Christianity by claiming this word for their personal use in worship.
Contemplating the word ‘Allah‘ as a Catholic, I pray God grants me the virtue of charity and the grace to practice this virtue with my Muslim neighbor and ask God that both my Muslim neighbors and I be endowed with it. John 3.16
Here is why: Suppose for an instance that my Muslim neighbor invited me to his table for a meal, and objected as we blessed the meal to my use of his word for God, then, what would be the polite thing to do? I believe that the matter would be easily resolved if I were to choose not to be offended and concede my Muslim neighbor the use of this particular word and use the word, ‘Tuhan’ myself. Simple. The meal is blessed, we are both fed and looked upon by God kindly.
Sr.Enda, (an Irish Catholic nun) the former headmistress of Assunta Secondary School, my alma mater, ran a first class secondary school for Muslims and non Muslims. She wins the love of all who know her by the practice and impartation/teaching of virtues common to all. Exemplary behavior brings about conversion of the heart. The witness of many Christians and non-Christians points to a God of Love. Sr. Enda was able to successfully provide us with an education because she put to practice religious tolerance, taking up no cudgels.
Many Muslims in Malaysia value compromise and are now willing and ready to give up Malay-Muslim supremacy because it is idolatry and displeasing in the sight of God. It is only a matter of time before Malaysian and world conscience compels just and righteous laws to be passed. All men who seek to be found righteous before God, are fervent in prayer and merciful and just in conduct.
I was unaware when it was made law that the word ‘Allah‘ could not be used by non-Muslims . The Malay-Muslim law passed in 1986 ,the year I graduated from US with a B.A in Creative Writing/Education. I was still a Hindu then.
I was unaware even when I penned my poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking At Malaysia” that there was any controversy over the usage of word, “Allah” by non-Muslims. My poem/prayer was penned in response to the peaceful and non violent struggles of Hindraf, and non-Muslim minorities in Malaysia. In particular I was inspired by Hindraf (Hindu) families who delivered yellow roses and teddy bears to make the appeal to former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mr. Abdullah Badawi. Their love, respect and appeal to the heart of this Muslim theologian touched my heart, and I am convinced the heart of God. I continue to believe that a God of Justice will answer from heaven the prayers of all Malaysians of good faith.
I objected and continue to object to Malay-Muslim supremacy because I continue to believe that all man are created equal before God. I pray for God to convert our hearts to faith, hope, and love in Him and in this conversion of our hearts to enable Malaysian born non Muslims to run for Prime Minister.
As an Indonesian-American writer-journalist friend who speaks Arabic informs me, Islam teaches that if you have loved your fellow man you have loved God. I ask Muslims incited or inflamed by the use of the word ‘Allah’ by me and others, for forgiveness and continue to pray for that virtue of charity to fill our hearts.
In the light of the many sufferings of the poor, the oppressed, the handicapped, the mentally ill, and needy, we need not add to our many sins, the sins of violent men.