Culture-bound Human Rights

Anthropologists have long known that some forms of knowledge will inevitably be bound or limited by the culture in which they work. The use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims in Malaysia is one such issue. One culture-bound reason is that about forty percent of the Malaysian populace are non-Muslims. Therefore, Muslims are under constant pressure from the normal criticisms of non-Muslims to Muslim practice and belief.

The main thrust of our concern is the confusion that the misuse of the word “Allah” would cause among the Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The concept of Allah as understood, embraced and practised by the Muslim community in Malaysia is totally distinct and separate from the concept as understood by the Church conceptually, culturally and theologically.

Whereas, the concept of Allah embraced by the Muslim community in Malaysia as defined in the context of Muslim and Malay tradition is Allah in a monotheist (tawhid) sense as opposed to the concept of trinity of God as understood by the Church.

The insistence of the Catholics to use the term “Allah” as the translation of the word “God” into Malay language suggests a hidden agenda to homogenize religious commitment among the Malays themselves, who might imagine that Catholicism is of equal significance as Islam because of this cross-religious use.

In other words, we are concerned about a subversive intention behind the Human Rights rhetoric. This Catholic intention is to convert Muslims to their own religion. We know that such strategies are operative in neighbouring Indonesia, Bangladesh and everywhere else, and we do not welcome them here.

If the United Nations wishes to honour its ideological commitment to cultural as well as political sovereignty, it will understand that the legality of the use of the word “Allah” in the context of the Muslim religion, Islam, is related specifically to conditions here in Malaysia, and nowhere else that we know of. Further, the United Nations must learn, even if taught by Malaysia, that many Human Rights issues are necessarily culture-bound, and will from now on NOT send uninformed outside representatives such as UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, Heiner Bielefeldt to interfere in matters they do not and evidently cannot understand.

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