‘Allah’: Uthaya’s misconceived arguments
July 25, 2013
FMT LETTER: From Aidil Khalid, via e-mail
I refer to Uthaya Sankar SB’s article, ‘Allah dalam Teks Hindu dan Sikh’. I find the thrust of the author’s arguments that the word ‘Allah’ had been used in the Hindu and Sikh scriptures, while partially true, had been shed under erroneous, misconceived and misconstrued contextual lights, the result of which is a grave misrepresentation of the true colours of those two religions particularly with regards to the concepts of god and Allah.
Let me be clear on one thing. Under no circumstances do I claim to be an expert in the field of religious comparison. It is also incumbent upon me with all humility to state that my knowledge on Sikhism, Hinduism or even Islam for that matter, is very much limited. Regretfully I had not delved enough in theology, and it follows therefore that my understanding is only to the extent that it is possible for a layperson reading a subject that is deeply difficult, extremely voluminous and highly complex.
But on the other hand, since I delve in the law as a profession, at the very least I have a general idea of the history of those religions insofar as the law is concerned. This is particularly since our laws often refer to Indian cases as persuasive authorities – with disputes of religious nature that arose in India in light of its vastly multi-religious society had resulted in fundamental issues on religion being crept into the authoritative judgments of the justice system, and thereby establishing definitive accounts of the respective religions.
Of particular relevance is an Indian case of Inder Singh vs Sadhu Singh and Anr AIR 1943 Cal 476, wherein the Calcutta High Court, in deciding whether or not a marriage between a Hindu and a Sikh could be said to be legally valid, had addressed and discussed rather lengthily, the historical context of the dawning of Sikhism.
The fact that Sikhism at its initial state was not regarded as a religion of its own but rather as a branch or a sect of Hinduism is pertinent for it goes to show how the religion that was founded in the 15th century, later absorbed or at least reflected upon some of the practices of other religions that existed then. This is of paramount importance, as we shall see in due course, to our understanding of the proper context to which the word ‘Allah’ is used in their scriptures today.
The learned judge, Khundkar J, in his written judgment of the above case observed as follows:
“Guru Nanak who founded Sikhism and was the first of Sikh gurus broke away not from Hinduism, but from certain features of that religion which he considered objectionable. Nanak and his followers were really dissenters who aspired to establish a reformed and purified Hinduism. Nanak preached monotheism similar to that of Hinduism in Vedic times. He disapproved of caste, preached against idolatry and condemned the veneration of saints, pilgrimages, and worship at shrines… It was not until the time of the 10th and last Guru, Gobind Singh, that a fundamental cleavage from Hinduism was attempted … He did away with the Hindu rites such as Kiria and Sradh, prohibited worship of shrines and samadhs and rejected the Hindu religious books, the Vedas, Purans and Shastras. The strict followers of Guru Gobind Singh, known as the Akalis, declared that they were not Hindus.”
Just as important to the judgment above in establishing the fact that Sikhism began as a movement to purify Hinduism, is also the fact that the Sikh scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib that was cited by the Uthaya in his article, is a compilation of works that included and referred to various other texts and sources, among others the Hindu texts as well as Islamic.
In this regard, I presume that perhaps the author was not aware that Sheikh Farid, who’s name he name-dropped in his article to support the contention that the Sikhs had used the word ‘Allah’ in their scriptures, was actually a Muslim sufi of the Chishti order in Punjab, with his full name being Khwaja Fariduddin Masud Ganjshakar. Indeed, his works could be found in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, but that is the very nature of the scripture itself in which teachings of various holy men from various religious orders were included. Thus when Sheikh Farid referred to ‘Allah’ 12 times in the scripture, there could be no doubt that he was referring to the concept of ‘Allah’ in accordance with the systems of belief in the religious order to which he subscribed.
While for Guru Nanak, Guru Arjan Dev and Kabeer who’s name the author had yet again name-dropped to say that they referred to ‘Allah’ 18 times, I do not wish – and indeed I am not capable – to go in depth into their holy teachings. But suffice would it be for me to say that their references to the word ‘Allah’ as they did, must be read in the proper contexts so as to ensure that any attempt to understand their meanings would not be misguided, rather than sweepingly conclude that just because the word appears in their works, Allah is therefore the name that they refer to as god.
Perhaps the quotation from Guru Arjan Dev would shed some light into this contextual aspect. Guru Granth Sahib, Raga Bhairon at page 1136, is thus quoted:-
“I observe neither Hindu fasting nor the ritual of the Muslim Ramadan month; Him I serve who at the last shall save. The Lord of universe of the Hindus, Gosain and Allah to me are one: From Hindus and Muslim have I broken free. I perform neither Kaaba pilgrimage nor at bathing spots worship; One sole Lord I serve, and no other. I perform neither the Hindu worship nor the Muslim prayer; To the Sole Formless Lord in my heart I bow. We neither are Hindus nor Muslims; Our body and life belong to One Supreme Being who alone is both Ram and Allah for us.”
It is clear that the references to Allah, Kaaba, Muslim prayer and Ramadan in the text quoted above were for comparison. They were not affirmative creeds dictating the name of God to which one should pray to, but rather cited for explanatory purposes so as to espouse breaking free from those religious doctrines. By the same token it is like when the Quran in 53:19 used the words ‘Latta’ and ‘Uzza’, which are the names of idols of the pagan Arabs. To conclude that just because the Quran cited the two names they are therefore the names of gods and goddesses that the Muslims believe in, is simply absurd, for the context upon which those words were used indicated that they were stern reminders from god against worshiping such deities.
It astonishes me very much to read that the author even went as far as to cite a popularised version of the song, Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram, to support his argument. The popularised version of the lyric of a song, as would be known to any reasonable person of at least some level of intellect, being a literary work of a lyricist has nothing to do whatsoever with religious doctrine – at least not authoritatively. So while the words appearing in songs may be right, it could also as much be wrong.
Why the author cited the song to support his contention is best known to him alone. I vaguely remember that Uthaya was the very person who barked so loudly in criticising the supposed error in Abdullah Hussain’s novel, Interlok (student edition), and demanded that the word pariah be removed. I could not help but wonder what would he say if the book of the learned national laureate were to be used and cited as an authority to support the history of pariahs coming to the Malay Peninsular? If such a notion were to be held as absurd, then citing lyrics of a popularised version of a song for religious doctrine would be just as absurd.
As for the author’s contention that the word Allah could also be found in the Hindu scriptures of Rigveda and Upanishad, I would be most grateful if he could just provide some supportive evidence or at least cite the relevant passages rather than leaving it to a mere bare assertion. My knowledge on Hinduism may be very limited, but I was made to understand – to which I stand corrected – that while there are references to iḷâ (for instance in verses 2/1/11 and 1/13/9 of Rigveda) and alâ (for instance in verses 3/30/10 and 9/67/30 of Rigveda), reference to Allah however could not be found anywhere in the Hindu holy books.
I am aware that all the above notwithstanding, the fundamental and core issue remains whether it is right to restrict the usage of the word ‘Allah’? I intend not to address this, since the matter is pending and on going in the Palace of Justice. I shall also not address the issue of the word ‘Allah’ being used by the Christians in the Arab countries and Indonesia, for I believe the same had been sufficiently addressed by many writers before. However let us not forget that the complaint by many quarters of the Muslims in Malaysia is not with regards to the non-Muslims uttering the word ‘Allah’.
As much as many would love to portray the controversy in such a simplistic and demeaning manner so as to dismiss anyone raising such an issue as being “ethnocentric, ultra kiasu and fanatical like a frog trapped under coconut shell,” the fact simply is not so.
The objection, rather, is to the very nature of the word Allah, which is a proper noun as opposed to the word ‘god’ being a common noun. Being one of the most important key terms in theological doctrine, the authenticity of its meaning and the attributes ascribed thereto ought to be guarded from being altered. For any such shifting to its semantical structure would inevitably corrupt the weltanschauung – or worldview – of the theological concepts that emanates from it.
By all means, use and utter the word ‘Allah’ all you like, sing the many anthems of the various states that has the word ‘Allah’ in its lyrics, or say insyaAllah should you feel like it – so long as the meaning and attributes ascribed to the proper noun is not corrupted, no one is going to complain. While there is no doubt that, as enshrined under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, anyone and everyone are free to ascribe whatever attributes that they wish to the god (i.e. a common noun) that they believe in, the complaint of the Muslims simply is that please don’t defame Allah (i.e. a proper noun) by ascribing Him to some other attributes to which He is not. One could not possibly honestly expect such libel and slander to take place without the Muslims protesting, no? So why insist on so doing?
Before ending this short polemical piece, let us consider this. Say, for instance, Ahmad is a person, and Jesus is another person. Can we then call Jesus ‘Ahmad’, instead of ‘Jesus’, since Ahmad is a person just like Jesus? And to make matters worse, what if one of them is a fictional rather than real character – if one were to still insist calling Jesus ‘Jesus’ and fight against defaming him as to be Ahmad, would that amount to, as Uthaya puts it, “menghasut … secara penuh halus dengan ajaran bahawa ada lebih daripada” seorang Orang?
With due respect, I do not think so.
-‘The author is a practicing advocate from Selangor. Original letter entitled ‘Allah’: Uthaya’s misconceived arguments was published by newsportal FreeMalaysiaToday.