As ‘Allah’ appeal nears, Borneo churches say ban violates Malaysia Agreement

Boo Su-Lyn, The Malay Mail

With the courts just days from deciding on the “Allah” appeal, the churches of Sabah and Sarawak banded together today to insist that prohibiting Christians from calling their god “Allah” violates the 1963 Malaysia Agreement upon which the country was founded 

Ahead of the Monday ruling by the Court of Appeal on whether the Christian Church can use the Arabic word, the East Malaysian churches stressed that it was “completely unacceptable” to bar such usage that has been their common practice for centuries.

“This is abhorrent, wholly unacceptable and a flagrant betrayal of the Malaysia Agreement which guarantees the inalienable rights of non-Muslims in Sarawak and Sabah to religious freedom,” Datuk Bolly Lapok, chairman of the Association of Churches in Sarawak, said in a statement today.

“The Bumiputera church will continue to use the Bahasa Malaysia Alkitab, together with the word ‘Allah’, both of which are fundamental to all aspects of the profession and practice of the Christian faith,” he added.

Bishop Datuk Dr Thomas Tsen, president of the Sabah Council of Churches, pointed out in an accompanying statement that two-thirds of Christians in Malaysia are Bumiputeras in Sabah and Sarawak, numbering at 1.6 million, who use Bahasa Malaysia and indigenous languages in their prayer services.

“With the greatest respect to the governing authorities, whether they are the legislative, executive or judicial arms of government, we ask that religious bigotry, racism and extremism should not be perpetuated and allowed to fester and poison our Malaysian nation,” said Tsen.

“Specifically with regard to the use of the word ‘Allah’, proscribing the use of the word ‘Allah’ would instantly turn these native Bumiputera into law-breakers in the very land of which they are the sons of the soil,” he added.

The appellate court in August ruled in favour of allowing the government’s appeal against the 2009 High Court decision, which has been at the centre of frosty interfaith ties in the country over the last three years.

The 2009 High Court decision, which upheld the Catholic Church’s constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in its weekly publication The Herald, had shocked Malaysian Muslims who considered the word to be exclusive to Islam.