Strong condemnation from Sabah churches

KOTA KINABALU: Bumiputera churches in Sabah have again reiterated their stand to continue using the Bahasa Malaysia Al-Kitab (Bible) and the word Allah in their publications, church services and prayers despite the Court of Appeal ruling denying Christians in the country from using the word.

“We have made a very clear stand and we will stick to it,” said president of the Sabah Council of Churches, Datuk Dr Thomas Tsen.

“We have purged our hearts and minds on whatever decision the court would make. Even if the court decides against us using the word, we will continue to use it.

“’Allah, bapa di syurga’ (Our Father, who art in Heaven) — that’s the first line in our Lord’s prayer. You cannot ask me to change the way I call our Father,” he said while noting that Christians in Sabah have used Allah for centuries with no problem and will continue to do so in the years to come.”

In a statement last Friday, Tsen said the council finds it “completely unacceptable that what are common practices of the Church in Sabah and Sarawak for hundreds of years and indeed for generations of Christians, even before the very idea of Malaysia was conceived, is now proscribed by administrative orders and laws”.

“It is to the great tragedy of Malaysia that one of the foundations of the formation of Malaysia – the agreement on the role of religion and religious freedom – is being progressively undermined and eroded.

“What we consider to be a most serious breach of the foundation pillar pertaining to religion and religious freedom is the unrelenting assault on the right of Bumiputera Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians to use the Al-kitab and the word Allah to refer to the Creator God.”

Tsen, Bishop of the Basel Church, a Lutheran church, reasserted the word Allah is an integral part of, and inherent, in the practice of Christians in Bahasa Malaysia-speaking churches in Sabah and Sarawak.

His statement also stated the churches expect that the guarantee of religious freedom enshrined in the Federal Constitution when Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaya to form Malaysian will be fully respected and honoured and that the 10–point agreement by the Federal Cabinet on the printing, importation and distribution of the Al-Kitab in which the word Allah is an integral part of it will be fully honoured.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak made the promise prior to the Sarawak state elections in 2011.

The council also wants religious bigotry, racism and extremism not to be perpetuated and allowed “to fester and poison our Malaysian nation”.

On the views of right-wing Malay Muslim groups and their call to extend the court ban to Sabah and Sarawak, Tsen said Muslims in the peninsular should not export issues that could undermine the religious harmony in the two states.

“The call is already unfair to Christians here.”

One right-winger, Perkasa vice-president Datuk Zulkifli Noordin told reporters outside the Court of Appeals yesterday that the Al-Kitab could continue to be distributed but insisted the holy book must not contain 32 words, including “Allah”, as the words are prohibited for use by non-Muslims, as stated in Islamic enactments in several states.

The council secretary, Pastor Wilson Ho, said the court ruling was “predictable” and the right-wingers view was also predictable.

The council said two-thirds of the church in Malaysia consists of 1.6 million Bumiputera Christians of Sabah and Sarawak who use Bahasa Malaysia to worship in addition to their native languages.

Association of Churches in Sarawak chairman Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok said it was “utterly irresponsible” and “grossly demeaning, to say the least”, for the appellate court to rule that the use of the word Allah was not integral to the Christian faith.

“In the meantime, Christians in Sabah and Sarawak continue to reverently worship their Allah until the Kingdom comes.

“What are you going to do about it?” said Lapok said in a statement yesterday.

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