MCMC grills BFM producer duo over Reza Aslan interview

BFM Evening Edition presenters Ezra Zaid and Umapagan Ampikaipakan were questioned by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission(MCMC) over their interview with controversial scholar Reza Aslan.
BFM Evening Edition presenters Ezra Zaid and Umapagan Ampikaipakan were questioned by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission(MCMC) over their interview with controversial scholar Reza Aslan.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 24 — The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) questioned two BFM radio producers today over a recent interview they conducted with American religious scholar Dr Reza Aslan over the “Allah” controversy.

Ezra Zaid said that the country’s communications and Internet regulator called him and his colleague, Umapagan Ampikaipakan, up for a statement this afternoon over their interview with Aslan.

“Umapagan and myself were called in today to give a statement,” Ezra told The Malay Mail Online today.

In the interview with the business station last Monday, Aslan criticised the recent Court of Appeal ruling that found that the word “Allah” belonged exclusively to Muslims, pointing out that the word was just an Arabic term for God.

“Allah is a construction of the word al-Ilah...Al-Ilah means ‘The God’. Allah is not the name of God.

“Frankly, anyone who thinks that Allah is the name of God, is not just incorrect, but is going against the Quran itself. It is almost a blasphemous thought to think that Allah has a name,” Aslan had said.

Part of the interview with Aslan, which featured his remarks on the “Allah” issue, did not air, but  was uploaded in a podcast on BFM’s website instead.

BFM managing director Malek Ali said that the line of questioning by MCMC investigating officers seemed to indicate that “they did not fully comprehend which portions were broadcasted, and which were only available online via podcast”.

“We did not broadcast parts of Reza Azlan’s interview that we deemed might have the potential of upsetting the more sensitive members of the public, but we did leave those parts in the podcast,” Malek told The Malay Mail Online.

“Our online visitors than would have a choice of whether they want to listen to it or not, and if they do, to form their own opinions on the matter,” he added.

Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled against a High Court decision allowing the Catholic Church to refer to the Christian god with the Arabic word “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its weekly paper, the Herald.

The court adjudged the usage of the word “Allah” as not integral to the Christian faith and said that allowing such an application would cause confusion in the Muslim community.

In the interview, Aslan told BFM that the world was “laughing” at Malaysia over the court ruling that he described as a “political decision more than anything else”.

“That you can control people’s ideas, their behaviour, their faith and their minds simply by trying to control the words that they use, is absurd. It is an embarrassment to a modern, constitutional, democratic and deeply Muslim state like Malaysia,” said the religious scholar, who is also a Muslim.

Aslan, who has written two books on Islam and one on Christianity, said that Christians referring to God as “Allah” do not pose a threat to Islam.

“A Taliban put a bomb in the Quran and took it to a mosque in [Afghanistan], where Muslims were slaughtered on one of the holiest days in the Muslim calendar. You want to talk about threats to Islam? That’s a threat to Islam,” said the author.

Afghan governor Arsallah Jamal was killed in a bomb attack in a mosque on Aidiladha last week as he was delivering a sermon.

Aslan also pointed out that “Allah” predates Islam, noting that Hebrews and Christians in the Arabian peninsula have long described God with the Arabic word before the time of Prophet Muhammad.

“Allah is not God’s name. Muslims do not own the word itself,” said the author of international bestseller No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.

Aslan, who has a PhD in the sociology of religions and a degree on the New Testament, shot to fame last July when an interviewer with US channel Fox News repeatedly ignored his credentials and focused on his motivations, as a Muslim, for writing a controversial book on Jesus Christ.

The interview by the US news channel was based on his latest book titled Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Local Islamic scholar Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin has also similarly said that the Quran allows ― and even encourages ― non-Muslims to address God as “Allah”, as long as they are referring to “The Supreme Being”.

The former Perlis mufti said recently that banning non-Muslims from calling God “Allah” is tantamount to “syirik”, which refers to the sin of practising idolatry or polytheism and is an unforgivable crime in Islam.

On Monday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said that the Court of Appeal’s decision does not affect Christians in Sabah and Sarawak, as he upheld the validity of the 10-point solution for the East Malaysian states.

Several ministers also said recently that the 10-point solution issued by Putrajaya in 2011 — which allows the printing, importation and distribution of the Al-Kitab, the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Christian bible, containing the word “Allah” — should stand, despite the appellate court ruling.

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