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Date [ 2014-01-30, 05:31 ]


(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) Ramani Rathir =No one actually saw it coming – this dispute over the use of the word ‘ALLAH.’ When Muslims in Malaysia objected to non-Muslims using Allah in the context of their religion and in other formats, the issue soon blew up and threatened the peace of the country.

Historically, in the 1980s, several states and their Muslim fatwa committees passed laws forbidding the use of 'Allah' and several Arabic terms by non-Muslims. But these laws were not widely enforced until the Home Ministry banned the Catholic weekly, ‘Herald’ from using the term in the Bahasa Malaysia section of the publication.

The Herald, in its National Language(Malay) edition, has been using Allah since 1995. However it was warned to stop doing so in 2006. It continued to do so and there was not much heat. But from 2009, the matter began hitting headlines and soon came to a boil.The newspaper won a High Court decision in January 2009 that overturned the Home Ministry’s ban. But in 2013, the Court of Appeal then overturned that decision, saying that the word was not integral to Christianity.

Aljazeera reported in January 2010 that lawyers revealed the offices of some Catholic churches were ransacked, in an apparent link to a dispute over the use of the word "Allah," the Muslim term for God.These followed a series of attacks on churches and despite the fact of the court ruling that overturned the government's ban on non-Muslims using the word "Allah".This was before the revoke of the Court of Appeal.

The attacks dove tailed into the legal firm representing the Herald.
Speaking to the Associated French Press news agency, S Selvarajah, one of the firm's lawyers, asserted that when staff  arrived to work, they found that several locks and steel grille doors had been cut, drawers ransacked and piles of papers strewn on the floor and a laptop was missing.

The fact that a mobile phone service provider's shop and tuition centre on the first floor were not broken into, indicated the law firm had been targeted. Selvarajah disclosed toAFP, ”It looks like it is an intimidation tactic. We anticipated something will happen. We are definitely upset about this."

Visibly upset too was Father Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the Herald. “I am, very concerned about the break-in which I believe is linked to the current court case.”Ragunath Kesavan, President of the Bar Council commented, "Criticism and dissent are legitimate forms of expression, but threats, coercion, intimidation or violence are unacceptable.”

A random count reveals that a church in southern Johor had red paint thrown on its walls. At least eight other churches have been firebombed or vandalised since the court ruling that allowed the Malaysian Catholic weekly newspaper, the Herald, to use the word "Allah."

In January 2013, the Sultan of Selangor’s decree that non-Muslims in the state are forbidden from using the term “Allah” drew flack. FreeMalaysiaToday reported most vocal was Bishop Paul Tan, who heads the Johor and Malacca diocese. He reminded that the Sultan’s role was to protect Islam and not to make rules for those of other faiths. He also pointed out Malaysia is not a theocratic statebut run on parliamentary democracy with the Federal Constitution protecting the rights of all Malaysians, and not only Muslims.

Exactly a year later, also in January this year, there was a repeat when the Yang DiPertuan Agong, celebrating his birthday as the Sultan of Kedah hit the headline with the declaration that ‘Allah is Exclusive Right of Muslims.”  

Earlier on, in October 2013, one other who insisted only Muslims had the right to use ‘Allah’ was Zulkifli Noordin, Perkasa President. He was soon chastised byParti KeadilanRakyat’s Penampang MP, Darell Leaking. The MP emphasised the fundamental rights guaranteed to Sabah and Sarawak prior to their joining Malaysia, one of which was the freedom to practice their own religion.

He pointed out this was in the form of 18/20 Points which were explicitly reflected in the Inter-Governmental Report and subsequently adopted into the Federal Constitution.

He also asked, ”And whatever happened to the 10-Point Solution which was agreed upon by the Prime Minister and Cabinet?” Calls have already been made for a re-examination of the Malaysia Agreement.

He ended by calling Christians to be calm pending their case against the revoking of the  High Court’s 2009 Ruling in the Federal Court.  It was during this period, at the beginning of this year that the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) raided the Bible Society of Malaysia and carted away 300 copies of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia and Iban. The books had been imported from Indonesia and meant for distribution in East Malaysia.T

The Malay Mail has reported that civilsociety groups and politicians on both sides of the fence have condemned the raid as illegal. Jais was accused of overstepping its jurisdiction over Muslims.The Selangor Menteri Besar has said the state government will order Jais to return the bibles if they fulfilled the conditions stated in the 10-point deal mooted in 2011.

PM Najib had condemned the attacks that have followed the 2009 ruling allowing the use of Allah by non-Muslims. This was followed by a silence on the row, until now. He maintained the recent statements made by the Yang Di Pertuan Agong was in his capacity as the Sultan of Kedah and was only applicable to that state.

Datuk Seri Najib Razakwent on to affirm the 10-point solution allowing for the use of 'Allah' in bibles is valid for Sabah and Sarawak, and any other state that does not forbid its use among non-Muslims. In all other states, it will depend on their respective enactments, such as in the case of Selangor, whose Sultan issued a decree prohibiting non-Muslims from using "Allah" and 35 other Arabic terms. The floodgates may very well  open for individual states to forbid the use of the word 'Allah' by non-Muslims either in worship or in their publications.

But the next minute, constitutional lawyers have declared, non-Muslims in Malaysia cannot use the word ‘Allah.’The reason cited was the Court of Appeal decision which states the word ‘Allah’ is exclusive to Muslims  and thus effectively overrides the Cabinet's 10-point solution made in 2011 which allowed bibles in all languages to be imported into the country, including those in Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia.

They went on to declare thatstatements by Prime Minister Najib, Datuk Seri Idris Jala and others assuring Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians that they can still use the word Allah in the Al-Kitab were not valid. Was this why, Najib has now declared that Christians must follow the rules and not use that forbidden word?

Meanwhile,Malaysian churches defiantly continue to use the word “Allah” in their services despite current rulings against its use by non-Muslims. Malay-speaking Christians continue to pray and sing hymns using ‘Allah,’ a practice they have observed for hundreds of years.
.
Muslims, such as the Muslim rights group, PEMBELA, question why Christians should stubbornly insist on using the word ‘Allah,’ “They can use alternatives, like the Malay word for God – Tuhan. I call this uncalled forprovocation,” exclaimed Chairman Yusri Mohamad.

The Daily Star disclosed that church leaders reiterate,” ‘Allah’ has been used by Christians in the country for hundreds of years and that the word predates the founding of Islam. They now worry about pressure from influential Muslim conservatives, who they point out, have made PM Najib forbid them from using ‘Allah’ after earlier saying they had the freedom to do so.

In the final analysis, is this issue really religious or political?PAS MP, Mohamed Hampa Maidin, wants the ban to be totally revoked, feeling that the whole issue was made into a controversy for the ruling Government to fish for votes among Muslims. He told the Malaysian Chronicle,”  The government should have educated the people that the word is not exclusive to Islam. Instead what they did was to manipulate it for votes. It was never about religion.”

So will Malaysia lose its statue as a moderate, peaceful nation or get quagmired in this religious broil? The latest is the setting up of provocative banners in two churches in Penang. In this week, church officials promptly brought them down and made police reports. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng tweeted, “The banners are clearly intended to incite tension between Muslims and Christians.”

Running alongside in tandem to the ban on Christians, is also the one on the Sikhs of Malaysia. They too used the word ‘Allah’  as it has been in their scriptures, the Granth, for hundreds of years. But obviously the party that burnt down a Sikh temple did not know that. 

abc@koreanpress.net

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