Inside a church, a hundred times the sound of Allah

Today, the Court of Appeals will make its ruling on the Home Ministry’s appeal against the High Court’s ruling that allowed the Catholic weekly publication, the Herald, to use the word, “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section. 

Desmond Davidson, TMI

Inside the spotless white walls of the All Saints’ Church tucked in the largely Dayak village of Kampung Tabuan, the common voice of the faithful at morning mass throbbed the walls.

In the Sunday service yesterday, the 400 or so said in one voice the word, Allah, no fewer than 100 times. It reverberated off the rafters in the church, which is literally going to raise its ceiling as the church builds a new roof.

Whatever the High Court rules on the “Allah” issue today, churches in Sarawak like this one that conduct their services in the native languages have no plans to change the way they worship, with many saying that “Allah” will continue to be used in their prayers.

At this church in Kampung Tabuan yesterday, which caters to the largely Iban villagers in the surrounding areas, the service was conducted in Iban.

The liturgy alone – the booklet that sets out the fixed set of Eucharistic rites and words to be used in worship – contained no fewer than 80 of the words “Allah Taala”, which means God Almighty in Iban.

The word was also used in the hymns and in the sermon of Reverend Nelson Sinken.

The secretary of the Parochial Council of Churches, Maxwell Landong, told The Malaysian Insider after the service, “Since I started going to church, the words Allah Taala have been used by the church to refer to God. It’s our language and there are no other words I know that were used to refer to God.”

He added, “We have been using Allah in our liturgy, our Iban-language Bibles, publications, prayers and sermons for as long as I can remember. The Muslims in Sarawak have accepted that. So what is the fuss? Why now?”

He pointed out that if the court ruled against the Catholic Church’s use of the word, it would be difficult to enforce the ruling here.

He said that on a personal basis he would still pray to Allah Taala and read Bibles that use the word Allah to refer to God “no matter what the court says”.

For his part, Reverend Sinken was sanguine on today’s highly anticipated Court of Appeals decision on the dispute between Christians and certain Malaysian Muslim authorities over the use of the word.

“I’m not worried,” Reverend Sinken said. He did not offer prayers for divine intervention or speak on the subject in his sermon.

Echoing the exact sentiments of Landong, Reverend Sinken said of the Christians, “We in Sarawak have been using the word Allah for years without problem. It’s also our language. I’m sure the court will take all those into consideration.”

Like the majority of the churchgoers here yesterday, Dorothy Gregory is optimistic that the court will decide in the favour of “what is fair and just”.

There are many similar words in the Iban and Malay languages. For example, “hutan” (jungle) in Malay is “utan” in Iban. “Jalan” (walk) in Malay is “jalai” in Iban and “makan” (eat) in Malay is “makai” in Iban.

When asked what could happen if the court ruled that Christians cannot use the word “Allah”, both Landong and Reverend Sinken said it would be up to the Archbishop to determine what they should do next.

Datuk Bolly Lapok is the Anglican Archbishop for Sarawak and Brunei.