Allah issue: One too many lies for Borneo

Christians in Sabah and Sarawak were being convinced they can practice their faith in peace, but history tells a different tale.

Pushparani Thilaganathan and Winston Way, FMT

KUCHING: Christians in Sabah and Sarawak are skeptical and uncertain about the reassurances being mouthed by their elected leaders in Putrajaya and in Borneo.

Both states have been assured that the perceived contentious ruling barring the use of the term ‘Allah’ in the Catholic publication, The Herald, would not affect them.

But history has a different tale.

Assurance and re-assurances aside, Borneo Christians have seen a litany of anti-Christian actions.

Among them the Home Ministry seizing bibles and ‘criminalising’ them with a “Christian only” and serialised numbers stamp.

They’ve heard calls to burn the bible and remove the term ‘Allah’ from its Bahasa Malaysia versions.

They’ve also read about acts of arson aimed at their churches and the alleged mass forced conversions for the sake of citizenry and to prop up a Muslim Umno-led government dating back to the late 1980s.

All this against a silent Umno-led Barisan Nasional federal leadership, which today sits in Putrajaya because of Borneo’s support.

Borneo contributed 47 MP seats to enable Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to retain his hold on Putrajaya. Borneo is predominantly Christians. Sarawak has a Christian majority and Sabah a sizeable closet Christian population.

The double-standard is decidedly obvious. The flexing and implementation of relevant laws bias.

The so-called social contract binding the communities interest by the founding federal fathers and the spirit and terms of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 have long since been overtaken by ‘political expedience’ and now buried.

The Court of Appeal’s decision last Monday overruling a December 2009 High Court judgment allowing Catholic publication The Herald to use the term ‘Allah’ in their Bahasa Malaysia version is being perceived as the “last straw”.

‘Judgment influenced by bigots’

While some see the judgment as peculiar to Herald publication, in that it was based on a Dec 5, 1986 Home Ministry directive anchored in the Printing Presses and Publications Act, others opined that the court ruling was too “wide” and allowed various interpretations, which incidentally the ‘ultras’ in peninsula have already latched on, pushing ahead with their Ketuanan Melayu and Islam agenda.

The written judgment, an observer summarised, had focused on Herald’s use of the term ‘Allah’ which had already been ‘outlawed’ by the Home Ministry in 1986 as part of its precondition to issuing publication permits.

The judgment by Justice Mohamad Apandi Ali ruled that Herald on record is 14-years-old and was privy to this knowledge.

The Herald, it deemed was not the bible and as such subject to the terms of the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

The judgment also noted that Herald had received an admonition in 1998 for use of the term. In 2002 it received a warning letter and in 2006 a second admonition.

Herald received three warning letters before a show-cause was issued in 2007 and the word Allah banned in 2008.

Irrespective of the socio-legal views expressed, the opportunistic reactions of the Malay ‘ultras’ and the politicians in the peninsular has driven a deep wedge between the communities in the country.

It has not only pushed away thinking rational Malaysians but also the “fixed deposit” native Christians here and its brethrens in Sabah majority of whom voted in Barisan Nasional in the state and parliamentary polls.

Senior lawyer and Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian said although the Christians had been assured that they would be free to practice their faith, he doubted if they “depended” on the government’s words.

“Do not for one instant believe that this (assurances by the government) is the truth of the matter.

“We have learned that even the words, assurance and undertaking by the prime minister himself does not hold water anymore.

“We know the government’s judgment may be influenced by the provocation and pressure from religious bigots like Perkasa.

“I find it absolutely mind-boggling that certain groups and individuals have responded to the court decision with apparent nonchalance, saying that the decision is confined to The Herald or to West Malaysia.

“It’s a naive view… the issue involving the use of ‘Allah’ has been affecting Sabahans and Sarawakians even before Herald case was mentioned in court,” Bian said.