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Sabah and Sarawak were promised religious freedom

Why do some politicians want to fan the flames of intolerance by using race and religion?

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With talk of a looming general election, closed-door negotiations over which party or parties should collude with whom, and news of ‘frogs’ jumping, the ugly side of politics seems to be rearing its head.

A High Court ruling that the word Allah can be used by Malaysian Christians in Sabah and Sarawak has also stirred a hornet’s nest. On 10 March, the High Court ruled that a government directive through a circular dated 5 December 1986, issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs’ publications control division, was unlawful and unconstitutional. It was this government directive that banned the use of the word Allah in Christian publications.

While this case has been to-ing and fro-ing all these years, Christians in Sabah and Sarawak have been using the word Allah in their daily prayers in churches and chapels with little fuss. Their euphoria over the recent High Court ruling has been short-lived with the Perikatan Nasional government’s move to appeal the ruling. The Malay parties in Sabah and Sarawak are also supporting the appeal.  

This battle over the use of the word Allah had been going on for over a decade and remains a bone of contention.

Will this change the way East Malaysian Christians pray? I don’t think so. They will continue to say their prayers the way they have been taught for generations – long before Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya came together to form the Federation of Malaysia.

Let’s look at the 20 and 18-point agreements for Sabah and Sarawak, which were signed before the formation of Malaysia. The agreements can be found in the Proclamation of Malaysia and the Cobbold Commission reports.

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These agreements highlight conditions and rights meant to safeguard the autonomy and the special interests of the people of Sabah and Sarawak. They protect, among others, these regions’ rights and freedom of religion, language, education, administration, economy and culture.

These agreements for Sabah and Sarawak were accepted by the first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, so that the special interests of these states would be protected. Our rights have also been inscribed in the London agreements and Inter-Governmental Committee reports.

Based on these recommendations by the Cobbold Commission, Sabah and Sarawak became EQUAL partners of the Federation of Malaysia. 

Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the annals of Sabah and Sarawak, and there is no official religion in these states. We had been praying in our own multi-religious, multicultural ways for over a hundred years before joining the federation.

The Sarawak government has always been clear about its multi-religious policies, and it will maintain this high tolerance.

However, the same may not be true of Sabah. The current Sabah government is a combination of parties under Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS), which is part of PN; thus, if the PN government appeals the ‘Allah’ issue, the Sabah government will have to follow the leader! How do you think Sabah obtained the sobriquet as the federal government’s “safe deposit box” during elections all these years? Do as I tell you!

Why do some politicians want to fan the flames of intolerance by using race and religion? What do they get out of all this malice? More votes? It is doubtful these politicians will get many votes from Sabah and Sarawak because the issue concerns the rights and freedom of religion of those states. Most likely, it is going to be one of the talking points in the upcoming general elections.

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There are many thousands of us East Malaysians who are studying, working, living in the peninsula. Most ordinary Muslims here probably know enough about us to realise we are not out to provoke them by using the word Allah in our prayers and Al-Kitab or Bibles. Why on earth would we want to do that? All this rhetoric is coming from inept politicians wishing to score points with their base.

The future of this country is being jeopardised by these incompetent people. Is this issue going to be used by the PN government for political mileage, knowing that totally banning the word is unrealistic? How will this government ever be able to build a nation based on equality when race and religion are often used for political mileage with its base? Is there no middle ground that we, Christians and Muslims alike, can meet and find a peaceful solution?

Life has always been hard, and it is even harder now with the pandemic. We are all trying to survive as best we can because nobody knows how much longer this virus will linger. We know that Covid-19 cases are still rising, and people are still getting sick and dying from this virus.

The vaccination process is much too slow. We need the government to get both the public and private hospitals involved in the vaccination programme so that ‘herd immunity’ can be achieved as soon as possible.

We want a government to be less focused on rhetoric. If the government is going to harp on this ‘Allah’ issue, does the government want to see people out on the streets, with or without masks, sparking more Covid-19 cases?

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Do we need politicians to help the country and its people see a way out of this crisis, or do we need more politicians fanning the flames of intolerance?

The general election might be upon us soon. So, choose wisely!

Jem, an Aliran reader, still cares deeply about Sabah, despite having lived in the peninsula for some time

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
28 Mar 2021 7.08am

Lest we forget, the government directive on “Allah” was issued in 1986. May that ex-dictator rot in hell for eternity.
My goodness, how slow the wheel of justice rolls on…
And yet, the battle continues,,,

28 Mar 2021 1.48am

To me, the danger of Malayan politics stirring the pot in Sabah and Sarawak will manifest itself only if Sabahans and Sarawakians are beguiled by position and power accorded by the Malay/Muslim centric government.

All Sabahans and Sarawakians must punish at the polls, those traitors who are willing to sell Sabah and Sarawak for self gratification.

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