The following is the exclusive Q&A by The Borneo Post team of Phyllis Wong, general operations manager of The Borneo Post, thesundaypost and Utusan Borneo, and Francis Chan, thesundaypost senior editor, with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Law, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz on Thursday.
Question: Datuk Seri, would you like to enlighten our readers on the issue of ‘Allah’?
Nazri: I want to tell you that when certain quarters says that the government is wrong to bring the matter to court, I want to say that it was not the government who brought the matter to court.
It was Pakiam (Archbishop Murphy Pakiam, Publisher of Herald).
He was the one to ask the court for a judicial review on the action taken by the Ministry of Home Affairs to ban the use of the word ‘Allah’.
For many reasons we are against the use of ‘Allah’ (by non-Muslims).
In the constitution there is an article which says that no other religions except Islam can be propagated among the Muslims or the Malay community. That is the article in the Act.
In order to give effect to that article, almost every state has an enactment that no religion is allowed to be propagated among the Muslim or Malay community, except Sabah and Sarawak, WP (Wilayah Persekutuan), Malacca and Penang, which do not have the law.
Among other things, it is interpreted that if you translate any religious books into Malay language, then that is seen as an act to propagate religions other than Islam to those who profess the Muslim faith.
This is in the enactment.
So, in the state of Selangor, it is the right of Sultan or any Muslim to insist the authorities to take any action against any group wanting to use ‘Allah’ as reference to their God.
In all these states it is against the law.
This is constitutional; we did not (simply) pick (it) up somewhere. That’s why you see, if you read the papers, the sultan of Selangor has given a decree to stop using the word ‘Allah’.
In all these states, legally, it’s against the law.
There is no question of any court of law allowing other religions to use the word ‘Allah’.
What about the states in Penang, Malacca, Sabah and Selangor, WP? In all these states, there is no enactment, (but) we use the Printing Act where the Minister of Home Affairs has the right to ban the use of any word if he foresees that it may cause some problems and later on affect the security of the country.
The minister makes the blanket plan for the use of the word.
Of course, the aggrieved party like the ‘Herald’, they were the ones who brought this matter to court.
That’s why Pakiam asked for judicial review whether the minister was right to ban. (But) because our system is such, the government has no choice but to defend.
Tun (Dr) Mahathir (Mohamad) (former prime minister) was wrong to say that the government brought the matter to court.
It was Pakiam who brought the case to court. And when it goes to court, there’s no stopping the process.
We appeal because in the High Court we feel that the judge has erred.
In the High court, but that is not the issue.
The issue is whether the minister has the discretion to ban. We appeal because the judge has erred.
She was making the decision whether ‘Allah’ can be used. She could make decision in the four states that the ‘Allah’ can be used; but not in other states.
The minister could not produce any strong evidence that if the word is not banned the security would be affected.
The discretion given to the minister is preventive. At that time churches were not burned. It’s difficult for the minister to give evidence to say that five has died.
We don’t want people to die…we don’t want churches to be burned.
This is exactly the thing that we want to prevent.
Because we can foresee that things can happen.
Therefore we appeal.
This is one reason, legal and constitutional reason, why the word ‘Allah’ cannot be used. Of course, there are other reasons why the judge was wrong. People are curious why so sensitive.
Remember the cows’ head? If you look at all the laws in Malaysia, there is not a single law saying that I cannot buy a cow head, cut the head and step on it.
I have done nothing wrong. But because we are multi-racial, multi-religious, (there is bound to be sections of) people angry.
But it is fact that in this country we have seven per cent Hindus. We must accept their sensitivity.
So, you must think like that. We must give and take.
If you can feel for the Hindus, you must feel for the Muslims.
One group Muslims, one group non-Muslims, we can’t have that.
We have to be fair.
Number 3, I want to say the history of propagation or the spread of Christian faith in this country was never in Arabic.
It was in English and later on in their mother tongue.
The Malays do not understand why you want to use Malay suddenly after 47 years of independence? We don’t understand.
We are very sure the script used by Christians in this country is in English, or in Iban or Kadazan, or the Chinese in Chinese.
We can’t understand why.
In Islam, the Koran is in Arabic, the others are just translation.
If Bernard (referring to Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, the Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister) said, ‘Look this is Malaysia, it is only Iban and Kadazan who can only understand BM. Of course, Bernard, fine that’s it. You stick to Sabah and Sarawak. Fine no problem.
But if you are saying, there are now Ibans in the peninsula, just as we are going to Sarawak and Sabah, we respect.
Of course, that’s for Sarawak and Sabah.
But if you are saying that now there are Ibans in Semenanjung, if you come to Semenanjung, then you respect our customs and culture.
With that, I would think that Christians in Sarawak and Sabah need not worry over this issue because it is a common tradition there.
I have been to an Iban church service and I heard the ‘Allah’ used there.
We don’t care what you do in Sarawak and Sabah, but don’t bring to Semenanjung.
It’s entirely different culture for us. That’s cultural.
Then we come to theology.
We in Islam, we have an Allah who does not have a son. If you allow the Christians, especially the Roman Catholic, Jesus is the son of God.
Mary is the Mother.
There is this Holy Trinity.
Our theology, our doctrine says that Allah does not have a son. If you say, Allah has a son, difficult. It may confuse the Muslims themselves why Allah has a son.
There is confusion there.
We do not allow the confusion to be a debating item for the Muslims.
We feel that the propagation of Christianity will not be affected without using the word ‘Allah’.
To avoid any future confusion, it’s best to respect each other’s customs. We feel that the propagation of Christian faith can be in anyway if ‘Allah’ is not used.
Don’t come and tell me that it’s Arabic, therefore can be used.
The thing is you never have your sermon in Arabic, unless it is an attempt to confuse the people.
So avoid any future conflict, it is best that we go back to status quo while waiting for the decision of the court. In Semenanjung don’t use; in Sarawak and Sabah can use.
Question: So, Datuk Seri, are you saying under 1Malaysia you should have two sets of law, East and West Malaysia.
Nazri: There have always been two sets. That is not new. Even before 1Malaysia, there were two sets of laws, Syariah and Malaysia law.
It is the best solution.
It is nothing new having two systems.
You know, as I said, even the courts have two systems.
1Malaysia is respecting each other’s belief and customs.
Our two sets not only East and West Malaysia.
We have the vernacular schools and national streams. That’s to show that we respect.
For example like you talk about 1Malaysia, everything must be one, may be close Chinese schools?
We were not farsighted enough. If only we had actually encouraged more non-Chinese to go to Chinese schools, today we would have been more successful.
Because into 2010, China is the economic power, I regret not going to Chinese school or I would have gone to China and really talk and convince. I am all for respecting each other’s customs.
I hate politicians who, when they want support from their community — while youngsters like (Datuk) Nichole David, (Datuk) Lee Chong Wei, they contributed more than the politicians.
Politicians only contribute towards developing the country, but Lee Chong Wei, if he plays for Malaysia against China he never thinks he is Chinese.
He is Malaysian.
Question: Sentiments have been stirred, do you think by having Sarawak and Sabah continuing to use ‘Allah’, but not in Semenanjung Malaysia, will help ease the tension?
Nazri: It should ease the situation. First, in most of the states (it) is already the law.
In the states, the sultan is the head of the Muslim religion. In three states, WP, Penang and Malacca, we have to wait for the court decision.
If the court so decides, we must respect. I am a seeker for law. I am a lawyer, if you break the laws, I don’t care.
It does not matter you are Muslim, non-Muslim, you are Malays, you are Chinese, I fight.
I am very determined.
I have also got an AG, Tan Sri Ghani Patail, who is very adamant about the law.
We don’t care. If you break the law, you are my opponent, even if we are of the same party. I am also an anti-corruption minister. Our common enemy is corruption.
Question: What are your comments on government managing the ‘Allah’ issue?
Nazri: We managed very well because the minister took the action.
If Pakiam has not brought the matter to court, nobody would have known about it.
Even to talk about who mishandled, it is not the government. Ask Pakiam. To me, people like (Pakiam) are very irresponsible.
It will never have affected the Christians at all if the word ‘Allah’ is not used.
If we have been sensitive just as we are sensitive to the Indian community, it would not have happened.
Since Pakiam brought this matter to court, we have got no choice…we have to go to court.
As I said, we respect the law. We have the system; I will comply with the system.
Question: How about ‘Allah’ being used in Rukunnegara and the like?
Nazri: The Malays know this is only a song. The Malays also know that if you use the word ‘Allah’ when you can use the word ‘Tuhan’, the Malays will feel that something is in the midst. Rukun Negara does not mention Allah, only Tuhan.
Question: One of the arguments is that if we use the word ‘Allah’, the Muslims will get confused. But in Indonesia and Brunei the word ‘Allah’ is widely used, why are the Muslims not confused?
Nazri: In the first place, Islam does not have a place in Indonesia. That’s why the Indonesians are not so particular about religion. They even call their newspapers Koran.
You must look at the culture. It’s called Koran. It’s Dutch. Indonesia is Indonesia. Malaysia is Malaysia.
Islam has a place in the constitution.
Number two, Indonesia is a secular state. But we are neither secular nor theology (theocratic). It’s a combination.
The other thing, apart from the fact that I said
Islam has a part in the constitution, the definition of the race is there — the Malay.
Who is the Malay? Malay is first of all a Muslim.
You mentioned to me that there are Malays in Sabah and Sarawak and they are Muslims.
The Malay is a Muslim, speaks Malay, follows the Malay culture and was born in this country.
So, if you are not a Muslim you are not Malay even though you are born ethnically a Malay.
These are Bumiputera.
This is because Malay is defined in the constitution first as a Muslim.
You must understand the psyche of the Malay. The Chinese, Indian, Kadazan and Iban, you can’t see their customs in the Malay community.
Because Malay is Muslim, you must understand. You can’t bring Indonesia and Brunei case into Malaysia.
Question: SIB Church which has strong influence in Sarawak and Sabah was among the churches to be burned, do you think this would affect the coming state election?
Nazri: I think it’s like this.
We put too much emphasis on political gain.
Let me tell you if there (referring to parties like PAS) are really in control, you people can’t live here.
You non-Muslim should know their mentality. We are fighting hard. We know who they are.
You see the history, you see Pakistan, Iran, they are all troubled states. People kill by the name of God. Don’t be deceived by that.
Question: Has any meeting been held with council of churches or church leaders?
Nazri: That I don’t know.
If you ask me, I certainly would not compromise.
Sarawak and Sabah let it be. Not Semenanjung, no.
To me, I am seeker of law.
If you break the law, I don’t care who you are. We have the law in this country, we must enforce the law.
You cannot justify yourself that you break the law because you are angry.
Question: It seems that our society has come to the point that tonight I burned the church, I can conveniently put the blame on others, what do you think?
Nazri: This is exactly what we want to prevent, like the burning of churches by banning the use of ‘Allah’.
The attacks on churches after the ruling proved the government right.
Banning the use of ‘Allah’ by Christians was a pre-emptive move to stop outbreaks of religious violence in the nation.
It would not have been this way if Pakiam had been more responsible.
Question: Has Datuk Seri some wisdom for people in Sarawak and Sabah?
Nazri: ‘Allah’ shall continue be used in Sarawak and Sabah. But if you come to Semenanjung Malaysia, please respect our belief and traditions.