(NST) - Historical facts reveal that the word "Allah" had long been used to define and exclusively refer to God for Muslims in the region, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said.
He added that although people during the pre-Islamic Arabia ("Jahiliyyah") and Christian ("Nasrani") era used the word to refer to their gods, surah Al-Ikhlas in the Quran clearly defined the concept of the oneness of Allah in Islam.
He was referring to the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims in the court case between Catholic weekly magazine, Herald, and the Home Ministry.
"It is also a fact that the arrival of Islam to the Malay world had also brought the word "Allah" (and its meaning) free of the Jahiliyyah understanding.
"For Muslims in this region, the word Allah has long been used based on the understanding of tauhid (the doctrine of oneness of God in Islam), and not otherwise," he said at the launch of a forum for academicians and ulama here yesterday.
Muhyiddin also explained earlier of other borrowed Arabic terms such as solat, masjid and takwa, had become part of the Malay language within the Islamic context.
"For example, the word masjid refers to a place where Muslims sujud (prostrate), bow and be devoted to Allah.
"And of course, rationally, it will be utterly awkward if the word masjid is used to refer to other places of worship that do not involve the practice of sujud, bow and be devoted to Allah."
Muhyiddin said resolving matters related to religious sensitivities between Muslims and non-Muslims had become the greatest challenge faced by Islamic academicians and ulama today.
He said such complexities stemmed from the lack of understanding of Islam and the tendency to comprehend it superficially without rational thinking and a solemn spirit, had made Islam to be the most misunderstood religion.
"And that is how an extremist understanding of the religion crops up and threatens to disrupt the unity among Muslims and disrupt the harmony in a multireligious and multiracial society."
Muhyiddin said the negative perceptions of a religion could be avoided if religious leaders take proactive measures to hold scholarly discourse to understand the sensitivities of other religions.
"I believe Islamic academicians and ulama can play an active role in holding talks and dialogue on Islam and promote understanding between religious communities."