Home Web Specials 2013 Web Specials Odd to allow only Sabah, Sarawak Christians to use certain words

Odd to allow only Sabah, Sarawak Christians to use certain words

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Charles Hector wonders whether the Allah controversy, like many other ethnic or religious issues, is being used to divert attention away from the very real concerns facing Malaysians.

The Herald has been barred from using the term Allah - Photograph: Wikipedia
The Herald has been barred from using the term Allah – Photograph: Wikipedia

The lingua franca in Malaysia is Bahasa Malaysia – no more English, and that is also the language used for worship and prayer for Malaysian Christians.

In the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, particularly the major towns, the grasp of English is still strong, and many churches have numbers to have services wholly in English, Chinese (Mandarin), Tamil and/or Bahasa Malaysia.

But in many other communities, services are multi-lingual, and BM is used a lot. In Bahasa Malaysia services, the word Allah has been used for years in songs and prayers.

Many of our Malaysian friends from Sabah and Sarawak are now in Peninsular Malaysia, and have been for a very long time. They are in the universities, colleges, military camps, in the civil service and even the private sector. In communion, during worship, Christian communities gather together. And as mentioned, the lingua franca is now Bahasa Malaysia (or some say Bahasa Melayu) – and so the usage of the word Alla’ is used all over Malaysia.

It makes no sense for the government to be ignorant of this fact, and it is odd for the government to be saying things like “The word Allah can be used by Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians in their worship, including in the Malay-language Bible Al-Kitab…”

We are Malaysians, all of us. What do you want? Separate churches and worship for Sabahans and Sarawakian Christians where Allah can be used?

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The restriction in our Federal Constitution is that there should be no proselytisation of Muslims (i.e. the attempt to convert Muslims in Malaysia to another religion), and that is tolerated and accepted by all other major religious groups in Malaysia.

Now, the new ‘infringement’ into the other religions by the imposition of restrictions of the use of certain words generally is stepping over the accepted boundaries. What next? The restriction of the use of Bahasa Malaysia (Melayu) by other religions?

It is odd that there are those that come out now and say “Respect the decision of the court” – but the question is, why now? Did they also come out and say “Respect the decision of the court” after the High Court decision?

Court decisions can be criticised and courts comprised of human judges are fallible and do err. Even decisions of the highest court of the land have been overruled by subsequent courts. Even decisions of the highest court have been ‘dismantled’ through the amendments of laws or the passing of new laws by Parliament.

The Catholic Herald is an official publication of the Catholic Church, and it reaches Catholics all over Malaysia, even Sabah and Sarawak – as such, it makes little sense to make statements that “Sabah and Sarawak Christians can use the word Allah” – but The Herald that they read cannot use the word. So, what if there is a ‘special edition’ only for Sabah and Sarawak Christians, would it then be okay for that publication to use the word Allah?

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So like political party publications, which have restrictions that it is ‘only for party members’, we may have new publications that use the word Allah bearing words like “Only for Christians from Sabah and Sarawak”? Come to think of it, what about Orang Asli Christians from Peninsular Malaysia?

True, we were in a period just before the Umno elections – and I do wonder whether the position taken by some in this Malay party could be just some form of ‘campaigning’ to win in the party elections? Or maybe worse, it may be ‘campaigning’ to regain the lost Muslim citizen support?

But the government must not let it be forgotten that Malaysia is a multiracial and multireligious country, with a citizenry that really is very tolerant and respectful of their fellow Malaysians (even foreigners) – irrespective of their differences arising by reason of ethnicity, religion or other matters …

I also wonder at times whether this issue, like many other ethnic or religious issues, is sometimes just a distraction to divert Malaysians from the other very real concerns – such as equitable distribution of wealth amongst individuals/households in Malaysia, the deterioration of worker and trade union rights including the loss of the right to regular employment until retirement, the TPPA and its implications for Malaysia and its effect on the future quality of life in Malaysia, Lynas, Bukit Koman, free and fair elections, detention without trial….

There seems to be some confusion. It is important to note that the Court of Appeal case was only about the ability of the Catholic Herald to use the word ‘Allah’ – although in the judgment the judges seem to have strayed into the general question as to whether Christians (nay non-Muslims) should be using the term Allah.

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