Allah debate: Let court decide

A Sarawak assemblyman says it is “unacceptable” to force “a religion to change words in their Holy Scriptures simply to satisfy believers of another religion.” 

Joseph Tawie, FMT

KUCHING: Both Barisan Nasional and opposition leaders have been urged to restrain from making comments on the use of the term “Allah” in reference to God and to allow the Court of Appeal to rule on the matter.

The government appealed a 2009 High Court decision favouring the church based on the the Federal Constitution.

In making this appeal, Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian said: “Political expediency should not and must not dominate the debate.”

“The basis for arguing whether non-Muslims can use the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God must rest on its context, etymology, and the relevant laws surrounding it.

“Too much is at stake for it touches on the very heart, soul, and spirit of one’s belief and faith regardless of what one believes.

“I, therefore, urge those with differing viewpoints to exercise restraint, tolerance and goodwill. We must be reminded that we are indeed treading on holy ground. This is not to suggest that we must avoid discussing it at the appropriate forum.”

He further urged BN and the opposition to agree to a common moratorium not to use the Allah or Alkitab issue in the forthcoming general election.

Some 10 percent of Malaysia’s population are Christians but they are the collective majority in East Malaysia’s Sarawak and Sabah.

In both Sarawak and in Sabah, the Malay speaking bumiputera Christians rely mainly on the Indonesian Bible.

“Christians of other ethnic communities like the Ibans in Sarawak refer to God as ‘Allah Taala’ or God Most High in their Bible known as the Bup Kudus.

“They rely on the Malay language or Indonesian Bible known as the Alkitab, which uses the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God. The word is of Arabic origin, which predates Islam,” he said.

Misplaced proposition

Bian who is Ba Kelalan assemblyman further explained that the first portion of Christian scriptures translated into Malay was done in Indonesia for the Gospel of Matthew in 1612, four hundred years ago.

“This was one year after the authorised version of the Bible was translated into English known as the King James Version (KJV). The Malay translation was also the first non-European language translation of the Bible. Surely we can treasure this rare heritage as Malaysians.

“Some have suggested that this is an East Malaysian problem and therefore the word ‘Allah’ can be used there while over in the peninsula, the word should be ‘Tuhan’.

“This proposition is misplaced as it suggests we have two ‘Malaysias’ instead of 1Malaysia. This is dangerous for national unity,” Bian warned.

He also reminded peninsular leaders that tens of thousands of East Malaysian Christians were working in the peninsula and this did not include a sizeable Orang Asli community who were also Christians.

“Do we want to deny them their constitutional right to refer to God as Allah as they do back home?

“East Malaysian Christians have been using ‘Allah’ to refer to God for generations. This has never caused confusion among Muslims before or after the formation of Malaysia in 1963.

“Why should this cause confusion now after half a century?” he asked.

He pointed out that Rukunegara used ‘Tuhan’ and not ‘Allah’ to refer to God just like the Indonesian Pancasila.

“In terms of common usage, this is a reasonable expression. However, in the Biblical context, the word ‘Tuhan’ refers to Lord and not God or Allah.

“It is, therefore, not acceptable to ask Christians to switch the two words and take them to mean what they do not mean in their liturgy and worship.

“One cannot force someone of another religion to change words in their Holy Scriptures simply to satisfy believers of another religion. This is wholly untenable,” he lamented.