Wednesday 22 January 2014

The Camel and the Arab - a metaphor for the Allah Issue

One day, an Arab and his camel were crossing the desert.  Night came and the temperature became colder.  The Arab put up his tent and tied the camel to it, then went to sleep.  The temperature became slightly colder  and the camel asked the Arab if he could just put his nose in the tent to warm up.  The Arab agreed, but just his nose, because the tent was small and there was no room for two.

Christianity or rather  Roman Catholicism came to the Malay Peninsula with the invasion of the Muslim Sultanate of Malacca by Catholic Portugal in 1511.  In the late 1400s the Christian kingdoms of Spain, Portugal, Britain, France, the Netherlands were stretching their sea-legs across the Atlantic to the Americas, Africa, India, China and Japan and Southeast Asia  sniffing around and searching for spice and trade and souls to convert.  Portugal  became the foremost maritime power especially after Vasco da Gama's success in crossing the Cape of Good Hope with ... shhhh ...  the help of Muslim navigators who were familiar with the Indian Ocean and the east coast of Africa.

The Catholics, unlike the Protestants of later times made no bones about their agenda of  'saving' the souls of the pagans by converting them to Catholicism.  In fact St Francis Xavier - a co-founder of the powerful and influential Jesuits, heard of the Malay Archipelago ......

The Malay Peninsula and Sumatra from  a Portuguese map.  North is to the left of the image.

...........after the conquest of 1511  and decided to evangelize and harvest more souls from among the Malays in this region.

Extract from Story of Malaya by W.S. Morgan, 1956

Count  the number of Churches in  the Fortress of Malacca.  I note about five.

Statue of St Francis Xavier, patron saint of Catholic Missionaries, at St Paul's Church, Melaka.

If not for the imperial ambition of the Protestant Dutch, who, with the aid of Johor defeated the Portuguese in 1641, the Peninsula could have been  another Catholic success story like Goa and the Philippines.  Who knows?  We could have been  re-named Albuquerqia or San Francisca or DaGamaland???

The exploits of Catholic Portugal 

So, the camel's nose became warm and after a while the temperature went down even further.  The camel asked the Arab again if he could just put his forelegs in the tent because they were very cold.  The Arab reluctantly agreed - that the camel could only put his forelegs in and no more.

And so it came to pass :  the entry of the camel's forelegs was not  unlike the Western-Christian foot at the Muslim-Malays'  door.  The Malay Archipelago became a huge prosperous playground for the Imperialists, both Catholics and Protestants.  "He who dares, wins" so to speak.  (This is the motto of the British SAS as well as Del Boy's - the cockney wideboy in my favourite comedy  " Fools and Horses").

So the camel moved in his forelegs.  They soon became warm.  After some time, the camel told the Arab that he had to put in his hind-legs or else he wouldn't be able to make the journey the next morning because his legs would be frozen. 

So,  the  encroachment of the the 'hind-legs' of the Christian West followed soon after.  And the imperial scenario expanded far, far beyond the agenda of the Catholic Spanish and Portuguese.  

That speaks volumes!!  From "The British Empire" by BBCtv Time-Life 

The Arab agreed.  But once the camel moved his hind-legs in, there was no more room in the tent for the Arab and the Arab was kicked out.

The moral of the story?  With the permitting of what seems like reasonable, innocuous acts, the door is flung wide open for larger, undesirable demands. 

The intrusion of the camel's hind-legs into the Arab's  tent is not much different from the insistence of  Christians in Malaysia to requisition the word Allah.  This could only lead to dissension and fractures in the fragile political structure.  Malaysia is not a homogeneous society.  It is made up of too many divisive elements created by the politics and machinations  of  the Imperial Christian West.  The tent is too small. The "Arab" made the mistake of succumbing to the camel's threats of  being "unable to make tomorrow's journey."  Malaysia must not and cannot comply like the Arab in the fable.  

As it stands, since 1786,  the camel from the West has got its  nose, forelegs and hind-legs firmly entrenched in the Malay Peninsula's tent.

It was not enough that Christians thrived and prospered in a Malay-Muslim domain.  Under the umbrella of the Christian Imperial Rulers, they had their way mapped out for them.  They could spread their gospel,  build their churches and Cathedrals and graveyards where they wanted.  Their Christian schools were generously endowed by the Colonial authorities.  Although they were in the minority, their festivals like Easter and Christmas were given equal billing with those of the majority Muslims.  Even Sunday, their Sabbath day, was gazetted as a the day off for each week so that they could attend  Mass and Services at  their Church.  As for the Muslims - especially in the Federated Malay States and Penang - well, they just had to sort out and make their own space and time for their 'Sabbath Day', for Friday Prayers! That, of course, is also the routine here for Muslims in Britain.  But then they are not the Bumis of Britain.  Britain has a Christian culture and Muslims do not make the majority of the population.  So Muslims in Britain had to go with the flow of British ways and purpose.  They do not, they cannot, challenge and claim the same  privileges that the non-Muslims enjoy in Malaysia. 

The adamant campaign for the appropriation of the Arab word for God is a very clever and subversive device to turn Christianity and Christians in Malaysia into victims.  This is but a  part of the grand design to spread the gospel ever more widely - and paint the Malay-Muslims into a corner at the same time.

During the era of Western  Imperialism,  Christian missionaries in Asia and Southeast Asia were almost always white men and women.  In those early days the white man  carried an aura of semi-divinity, power and respect in the eyes of the natives - the Tuan and Mem. Today, the tactics and strategy are changing.  Take this innocent little report from our Leicester Mercury in 1989. 

Note the part underlined in red.
Non-white recruits are now the "blue-eyed" messengers of the Gospel. They have the ability to merge easily into the catchment area of the evangelists and  unlike  White missionaries they do not stand out like  sore thumbs and their presence, whether overt or covert, don't set the alarm bells ringing.

In 1986 we came across this little gem in a Christian paper "Challenge Weekly"  in Wellington, New Zealand.

Mr Steve Oh, an evangelist and director of Asia World Mission was keen to encourage New Zealanders to spread the Christian message because  "it is possible under Malaysian law to evangelise, but it must be done sensitively".  Somehow I reckon their interpretation of 'sensitive' is more akin to surreptitious 

The 'sensitivity' referred to by Mr Steve Oh is not about respecting the Muslims and Islam. It's about selecting the right tactic  -  "I would strongly caution against cold turkey, cold contact street evangelism in Malaysia".  

I find it quite amusing that non-Malays in Malaysia who are not too keen on using Bahasa Malaysia in education and day-to-day communication are not averse to utilising it for their Christian tracts, pamphlets and the Bible itself.  One can see why.  There is Indonesia, a huge Malay-speaking world that is ready for the picking.

When the Catholics in Malaysia spearheaded the crusade for commandeering the Arab word Allah for their own,  I cannot help but reflect how Mr Steve Oh's 1986  statement about evangelising in Malaysia was in fact quite prophetic.  He cautioned evangelical groups to  'pay more attention to contextualising their evangelism' . 

Indeed, in an arena such as Southeast Asia, you can't find a better context than to appropriate the word "Allah" - which is at the very heart of  the terminology of  Islam and the Koran - with which to dress up Christian evangelizing.      And the evangelists know this very well.

Christian missionaries in the past have been very imaginative and creative in persuading and 'saving' pagans and non-believers for their cause.  Here's a fascinating example of how they turn the language of their target community to fit into their crusade.

The original caption of the above reads as "The Nigerian Pidgin (a Chinese corruption of "business") in this catechism was one of several Pidgin dialects used in converse with natives."

(The text of the fable was taken from the video by itsaperfectstory.  Thank you.)




Anonymous said...

I think you are diverting the real issue. The real issue is the Malay speaking East Malaysian want to use the word in Peninsular but being banned by the Muslim here. The non Malay non East Malaysian here have no problem of not using this word.

Anonymous said...

You won't hear that as the reason for their adamance to put Allah in Malaysian bibles.
in fact, I'm not aware if Lawrence and Pakiam give any real reason at all.
Just the usual rebutted excuse that foreign invaders printed bibles with Allah, without going to the reason why they did so.
This casts serious doubts on their intentions and sincerity.

As for that camel and Arab story, it also serves as a metaphor for the dilemma that Malays face as well. Even while the country declared independence, the Malays faced the communist who fought and killed to set aside Malays claim on their own homeland, destroy the royal institution and basically reap this country for their kind without regard to the Malays.

What's even worse, some Malays even support these kind of people just for their political ambition or political hatred.

So how to deal with this?Those people just won't stop and they don't care for reason and compromise and always prepared to twist truth and history.

tsyhll said...

I could sum this up with 4 words,

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you 2.22am Jan 22

I think YOU are diverting from the real issue. You don't like what you read about the arrival, the development, and the advance of Christianity in the Malay-Muslim domain.

Get reading about the real issues - of the Christians' (and especially the Catholics') offensive ágainst the religious status quo in Malaysia, partly by pushing this campaign to purloin the Arab word for God. If it was so crucial to their relationship with God, why didn't they demand this in the time preceding Merdeka, in the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s? Or did the new Christian Millennium inspire a kind of Damascene light?

Certainly at the beginning, missionaries like St Francis Xavier and Jesuit preachers would shudder at the use of that word 'Allah'!

It's all about Christianity and especially Roman Catholicism flexing their muscles in a predominantly Muslim domain. They once used cannons and war and perks like education. Today it's the power of the image, the word and the symbol. Take the context and the vocabulary of your rival and use that against him. It's just another disguise to trick and deceive your prey - the Muslims in Southeast Asia.

As far as I know, the Christians in Sabah and Sarawak are free to use what word they want for God including Allah. That was how they were taught by the missionaries, and the situation remains as it was.

The other real and more provocative issue today is the unity of Christian strategy on key evangelical issues. And with regard to your point about "the Peninsular", just remember the story of the Trojan Horse.

As I wrote earlier, why now? Has it to do with disguising Christian evangelists from for example, East Malaysia - punctuating their preachings in the Semenanjung, in Sumatra, in Java, in the Celebes, in Kalimantan etc with the word 'Allah' - making it 'user-friendly' for Muslims, especially the poor and deprived and innocent in the rural areas? Isn't this almost similar to "inviting Muslims" to buka puasa (with little talks thrown in) at that Damansara church?

We know who would be hidden in that Trojan Horse and we know who built that Trojan Horse in the first place.

Just an afterthought. What other Malay-Muslim-Arab words will be pilfered by your brethren? I can think of terms like madrasah ( instead of Sekolah Hari Ahad), solat, Isa, Mariam or Maryam, insyaAllah, Bismillah, Assalamuailkum etc.

Jesus!!!! ( which is a word used to express exasperation in the west)

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you Anon 8.05 am Jan 22

The motives of Christians like Packiam et al will never be made explicit. It is up to Malay-Muslims to research and analyze the workings of Christianity and its evangelists in this Malay-Muslim domain.

Malays have to get out of that neat, cosy world of perusing their navels and wondering about how to get to paradise. Only with knowledge can Malays counter the slippery half-truths and subterfuge of their antagonists.

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you tsyhll,

Give an inch, they'll take a yard.

Kasi muka, naik kepala.

But P. Ramlee's version in that song is more earthy. "Sikit kasi, banyak minta"

However many Malaysians have been "Banyak kasi, lagi banyak minta".

Anonymous said...


Anon 2:22 puts forth a very valid point. The East Malaysians have been using the word long before their union with the Peninsular in 1963. The issue we have are East Malaysians bringing over their religious practices as many of them are living and working in the Peninsular. I see no reason why they should be restricted from their own religious practices.

Furthermore, Bahasa-language Christian practices with 'Allah' has been in use among the Orang Asli in the Peninsular before Independence. It was only in the 1980s that some officials in the ministry decided to prohibit it.

Another thing I would like to point out is that the majority of Christians in Malaysia are actually of Bumiputera descent. Chinese and Indians make up only one-third of the Malaysian Christian demographic.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you read Helen Ang's blog, but if you don't, I would like to draw your attention to one of her postings.

Specifically to the part with the twitter exchange between some people and Parit Buntar MP, Dr Mujahid.

What to do with people like him?Obviously he's not interested in discussion, preferring to call others stupid instead. Who's the stupid one here really?

I think this should be spread, because the church and their political allies are under the delusion that people like Mujahid represents the majority of Malays.

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you Anon Jan 24 4.57 am

Have you read my response to 2.22am Jan 22? I think that suffices as a reply to yours.

By the way, have you any opinion about my description of how Christianity snuggled its way into the Malay-Muslim domain by its strong firepower and by riding on the coat-tails of Western-Christian imperialism?

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you Jan 24 7.29 am

Can you wait a while before I reply?