We the undersigned cvil society organisations (CSOs) urge Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to withdraw the government’s appeal against the High Court’s decision on 30 March to allow all Malaysians to use the word Allah, the Arabic word for God borrowed by Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Iban, Bahasa Bidayuh, Bahasa Lun Bawang/Lun Dayeh/Kelabit and Bahasa Punjabi.
We call upon the government and people of Malaysia to seize the High Court’s decision as closure for the 35-year-old polemic since the cabinet’s decision to ban its universal use. All political parties should not exploit the High Court’s decision for narrow political mileage.
Many Peninsular Muslims suspect that Christians praying in Bahasa Malaysia and to Allah, a phenomenon increasingly noticeable since 1980s, is a deliberate attempt to convert Muslims.
In reality, Christians who recite the word Allah in prayers are predominantly Sabahans, Sarawakians and Orang Asli. Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak, many of whom have Christians families and friends, are comfortable and not alarmed by Christians praying to Allah, just like Muslims in Indonesia and the Arab world.
That suspicion against Christians praying to Allah is actually a cultural shock experienced by Peninsular Muslims and the natural outcome of two phenomena: first, the success of the national language policy, which reversed the decline of Bahasa Malaysia amongst natives in Borneo; and, second, the closer integration of East and West Malaysia as more Sabahans and Sarawakians migrated to the peninsula for education and employment.
As a response to the cultural shock, the ban on the universal use of the word Allah by the cabinet in 1986 stemmed from the concern of the Muslim community fearing itself becoming the target of aggressive proselytisation, incidentally a common concern of all other religious communities.
Underlying such cultural shock is the ignorance that Christians in the Nusantara have been praying to Allah in Bahasa Melayu, Bahasa Iban, Bahasa Bidayuh, Bahasa Lun Bawang/Lun Dayeh/Kelabit and some other regional languages for as long as 476 years.
No party should provoke and spread unfounded fear that Christians praying to Allah would lead to Muslims’ apostasy. The undisputed fact is that Muslims constitute near or more than 90% of the population in Arab countries and Indonesia, even though Muslims and Christians have shared the word Allah and other religious terms for 1,442 and 476 years respectively.
The High Court’s decision is but restoring the pre-1986 status quo and undoing a restriction on Sabah, Sarawak and Orang Asli Christians on an unfounded threat felt by many Peninsular Muslims but not shared by Sabah and Sarawak Muslims.
The High Court’s decision should be viewed positively on two grounds. First, it will strengthen Malaysia when Christians in Sabah and Sarawak can freely pray to Allah as their Christian cousins in Indonesian Kalimantan do. Second, it is reaffirming the status of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language for all.
Initiated by Engage and Pusat Komas (Komas), the above statement is endorsed by 65 civil society organisations:
1. Advancing Knowledge in Democracy and Law initiative (AKDL)
2. Agora Society Malaysia
3. Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
4. All Women Action Society (Awam)
5. Association of Women Lawyers
6. Belia di Bawah Bayu, Sabah
7. Beyond Borders Malaysia
8. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
9. Childline Foundation
10. Community Action Network (CAN)
12. Freedom Film Network (FFN)
14. Gerakan Mahasiswa Maju UPM
15. Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (Gopio Malaysia)
16. Good Samaritan Kuala Lumpur
17. Growing and Emerging Leaders (GEL)
18. Jagoi Area Development Committee (JADC)
19. Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia (JKOASM)
20. Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (Joas)
21. Justice for Sisters
22. Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
23. LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG)
24. Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity (Maju)
25. Malaysia First
26. Merdeka University Berhad
27. Muslim Professional Forum (MPF)
28. New Student Movement Alliance of Malaysia
29. North South Initiative
30. Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute (OHMSI)
31. Our Journey
32. Pacos Trust
33. Pasukan Pembela Hak Rakyat Sabah (Pembela)
34. People Like Us Support Ourselves (Plusos)
35. Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak)
36. Persatuan Dayak Sarawak (Pedas)
37. Persatuan Masyarakat Tering Miri (PMTM)
38. Persatuan Pemangkin Daya Masyarakat (Rose)
39. Persatuan Penduduk Galing Besar Kuantan
40. Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Manusia (Proham)
41. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor
42. Persatuan Wanita Desa Sarawak (Wadesa)
43. Persekutuan Persatuan-Persatuan Lembaga Pengurus Sekolah Cina Malaysia (Dong Zong)
44. Pertubuhan Paradigma Wanita Sabah (Awas)
45. Pertubuhan Solidariti Hijau Kuantan
46. Protect & Save the Children
47. Pusat Komas (Komas)
48. Sabah Human Rights Centre
49. Sabah Reform Initiative (Sari)
50. Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (Sawo)
51. Sahabat Rakyat
52. Sarawak Women for Women Society
53. Saudara Socio-Cultural Research
54. Save Rivers
55. Scrips Malaysia
56. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
57. Suaram (Suara Rakyat Malaysia)
59. Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy (TBHT)
60. To Earth with Love, Sabah
61. Undi Sabah
62. University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany)
63. Voice of Youtharian
64. Voice Your Choice
65. Wisdom Foundation, Sabah
66. Women Aid Organisation (WAO)