Leave Herald alone: Dompok

(Daily Express) – Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Tan Sri Bernard Dompok urged the Home Affairs Ministry to let the court decide instead of continuing to "harass" the Catholic weekly, Herald, for using the word "Allah" in its latest publication.

Stating that it was an unnecessary controversy, he said the Home Affairs Ministry should just let the matter rest because it is pending hearing in court.

He was speaking to reporters after officiating at the presentation of the UPSR 2008 excellence awards, uniform assistance and Year Six "Aku Janji" pledge at SK St Theresa, Inobong here Friday.

"Lately, the Ministry of Home Affairs has been harassing the Herald to such an extent that they have to go to court and (now) waiting for hearing," he said, adding that based on comments, including by lawyers, on the issue, the Herald should be allowed to publish as they have done before, pending the outcome of the case.

"It is not for the Ministry of Home Affairs to pre-empt the decision of the court," said Dompok who is also the President of the United Pasok Momogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko).

He was responding to the reports quoting Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar warning the Herald that "the show of defiance could cause conflict and anger among other races in the country".

Syed Hamid also said that "if anything happens, then don't put the blame on us" and that he would refer the matter to the Ministry's legal unit.

"There's no reason for the Home Affairs Ministry to kelam kabut (get all excited) to look at this. I think they are using very strong language (against the Herald)," said Dompok.

He added that the Herald, is just a small organisation having a circulation of about 14,000 a week out of the Christian population of about two million and slightly more than a million Catholics in the country.

"It is only being sold in churches so I don't see how it can confuse the people," he said, adding that it had also complied with the requirement of the Ministry to stamp the word "Terhad" (limited) on every edition.

Dompok said the matter would have come up during the premiership of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad "but I think wisdom prevailed".

He said the usage of the word "Allah" should be viewed from the historical perspective since the terminology had come about when Bahasa Melayu was used by the people even before Malaysia (existed).

He said it was the language used by the people of the Borneo territories (as the) Malay tacit lingua franca, even though English was used in most schools but there were also some schools that were conducted in Malay at that time.

"So religion developed along the line of communications and in this particular village (Kampung Inobong), for instance, I didn't have occasion to use the terminology because sermons and proceedings in church are conducted in Kadazan and "Allah" in Kadazan is "Kinoingan".

"When I went to school in KK La Salle, when I go to church it was in English so 'God' is God," he said.

However, Dompok said in rural areas when the predominance of Bahasa Malaysia came about, the usage of "Allah" became more pronounced, especially after the importation of Bibles written in the Indonesian language, which refers to God as "Allah".

He said the terminology is widely used in Indonesia and also in Arab countries by Christians.

"So it is a universal terminology used in the Christian world when they are praying in their vernacular language. There is no reason for the Home Ministry to continue harassing the Catholic Herald," he said.

Based on reports, Dompok said it was "as though the Herald was trampling on the toes of everybody while in fact I feel the Ministry of Home Affairs is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut in full force to silence the Herald".

"We are living in a country that practices democracy, freedom of religion and that the first principle of the Rukun Negara is Belief in God. People want to belief in God so I think they should be allowed to so," he said.

Dompok also could not believe that people were even suggesting disallowing worship by other religions in Malay.

"I said how can that be? Bahasa Malaysia does not belong to the Malays alone, this is the language of all Malaysians, your and my language.

"So I feel if there is indeed objection to that then perhaps it's time for us to look for a new national language so that there would not be "confusion" among Malaysians," he said.

To a question, Dompok said he had spoken to the Home Minister and brought up the issue in the Cabinet.

"In fact it was the day after the (Federal) Cabinet meeting that they gave back the Herald the license to publish in Malay," he said.