KUCHING: All parties must accept the Court of Appeal’s decision to disallow the Catholic weekly ‘The Herald’ from using the word ‘Allah’ to refer to the Christian God, said Minister of Infrastructure Development and Communications Dato Sri Michael Manyin Jawong.
However, he said the party/parties affected by the decision can still appeal to the highest court, which is the Federal Court.
“If the party/parties concerned are still not satisfied, they have the legal venue which is to appeal (to the Federal Court, which is the apex court in the country),” he told The Borneo Post through an SMS here yesterday.
On the other hand, Senior Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Masing aired his sadness over the issue.
“As a Christian I am sad to know of the court ruling which disallows non-Muslims to use ‘Allah’. The court must understand that Christians used Allah for over 100 years in Sarawak.
“There was no problem nor did it create tension between Muslims and non-Muslims. The court must realise that the word Allah predated Islam. We must not politicise religion,” said Masing.
He added that all quarters must learn from history that the most vicious wars were fought in the name of religion.
“We must never allow it to happen here in Malaysia,” added the Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president.
PRS Youth chief Liwan Lagang concurred with the chairman of the Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) The Most Revd Datuk Bolly Lapok that there seemed to be no logic to the court’s decision.
“I agree with Archbishop Bolly that he found it unacceptable that practice of the Christians in Sarawak and Sabah who for generations had used the word Allah in worship, long before the formation of Malaysia was conceived, is now held as unlawful by the Court of Appeal,” said the Assistant Minister of Culture and Heritage. Liwan pointed out that the people of Sarawak and Sabah were promised the right to practise their religion when courted for the formation of Malaysia.
“So we expect the federal government to abide by the Federal Constitution which guarantees religious freedom,” he stressed.
Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian expressed shock and disappointment that the Court of Appeal (CA) had come to such an illogical and preposterous decision.
Baru, who is state PKR chairman, said the CA had ignored the historical facts which pre-date Malaysia and the rights to religious freedom under the Malaysia Agreement 1963.
“This decision of the Court of Appeal is a betrayal of the undertaking given to our forefathers when they agreed to join in the formation of Malaysia,” he said in a press statement yesterday.
He was responding to CA’s decision to bar the use of the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God by the Catholic weekly publication.
Baru stated that Article 11 of the Federal Constitution guarantees that every person is allowed to profess his or her religion in peace and harmony, adding this includes the freedom and right to propagate and practise subject to the sanction against preaching to Muslims if provided for under the state enactments or ordinances.
“The use of the word ‘Allah’ is an intrinsic part and parcel of the practice of Christians and disallowing the use of ‘Allah’ is clearly a fundamental breach of our constitutional rights.
“I am aware that this decision is against The Herald magazine, but in our legal system it is now a legal precedent for any similar case anywhere in Malaysia.”
Baru said for the judges to say that the use of the word ‘Allah’ is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christians is going against established known facts.
“It was a factual finding of Justice Lau Bee Lan in the court of first instance that the word ‘Allah’ is widely used among Malay-speaking Christians of West Malaysia and those of Sabah and Sarawak, even before the independence of Malaya and the formation of Malaysia.”
Notwithstanding what has been decided by the court, he said Christians in Sabah and Sarawak will continue to use the word in exercise of their rights.
“It is clear that the court, while showing great concern that the Muslims might be confused by the use of the word ‘Allah’ by Christians, has no similar concern that the Christians might be confused by the ban on the use of a word they have been using for as long as anyone can remember.
“By this decision, the court has criminalised the practice of the Christians of Malaysia, and has opened up the way for persecution of Christians by the ultra Muslims whilst a cowed and silent government watches passively. It appears that we are on the road to Ketuanan Islam in Malaysia.”
Baru also pointed out that by this irrational decision, Malaysia has become the only country in the Muslim world which purports to claim ownership and copyright of a word.
“Indonesia, which has the biggest Muslim population in the world, and the Muslim countries of the Middle East do not have any issue with their Christian citizens’ use of the word ‘Allah’. What message is this decision sending to these countries?”
He said that this repugnant and oppressive decision of the CA yesterday confirmed the fears of our forefathers and gave justification to the voice of the 60 per cent who were against joining in the formation of Malaysia in 1963.
“I believe this was also true of many other Christian denominations then as reflected in the said report. The people of Sarawak are getting very close to, if they have not yet reached, ‘the sour end of that sugarcane’ which was in the mind of the late Temenggong Jugah anak Barieng during negotiations for the formation of Malaysia.
“Today, not only is the end of the sugarcane sour, it also leaves a bitter taste in our mouths.”