Nik Aziz calls Umno’s bluff in row over ‘Allah’

(MM) – Umno’s struggle to keep “Allah” exclusive to Muslims had merely been tailored for the polls, PAS’s Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat has suggested, noting how party leaders have appeared less keen on the topic now that the election has passed.

In moving to distinguish between Umno’s and PAS’s Islamic ideals, the PAS spiritual adviser accused his rivals of practising what he described as a “cosmetic” form of Islam, which he said neglects the actual spirit of Islam.

He pointed out that while Umno’s leaders appeared at the forefront of the struggle for “Allah” before the polls, subsequent news reports quoted many among them as saying that non-Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak were not banned from using the Arabic word.

“For example, in the use of the word “Allah”, it is made a big topic as if Umno is fighting to the end so that only Muslims can use the word “Allah”.

“But that is the story before elections. After elections, then small stories only come up that the court decision that maintains the ban on the use of “Allah” does not apply to Sabah and Sarawak.

“In other words, perhaps only Muslims in the peninsula will become apostates if non-Muslims are allowed to use the word ‘Allah’, the Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak have different laws,” Nik Aziz wrote in a statement yesterday carried by PAS organ Harakah Daily.

Nik Aziz was referring to the Court of Appeal’s decision last Monday, where it ruled that the Catholic Church is still banned from using the word “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia section of the latter’s weekly paper Herald, which caters to Bumiputera Christians.

After the Court of Appeal’s decision, churches in Sabah and Sarawak have said they will continue to use the word “Allah”, while the Sikh community also said they will not stop using the Arabic word which is also contained in their holy book.

On Monday, ministers Tan Sri Joseph Kurup and Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that last week’s Court of Appeal decision — which found that the home minister had acted well within his powers to prohibit the Herald from using the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section — was limited to the church newspaper.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had on the same day reassured Christians in East Malaysia that they will be able to continue using the word “Allah” in their religious practice, pointing to Putrajaya’s 10-point solution in 2011 that allowed Christians to publish, import and distribute Malay-language bibles containing the Arabic word.

“Recently when the Appeals Court made its decision on the use of the word Allah, it did not at all touch on the practices of Christians in Sabah and Sarawak, in fact the 10-Point Agreement is still being maintained,” Najib had said.

Yesterday, minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz said that east Malaysian Christians have to respect Muslims’ exclusive right to describe God as “Allah” in peninsula Malaysia, as peninsula Malaysians have to similarly respect customs in Borneo.

The former de facto law minister said that the Christian bible in peninsula Malaysia is typically in English, but noted that those in Sabah and Sarawak, including Muslims, are fine with Christians using the Arabic word to refer to God, as it is part of their culture.

“As much as you want us to respect what you do in Sabah and Sarawak, I’d expect Sabahans and Sarawakians to respect Muslim sensitivities in the peninsula,” Nazri told reporters after the Malaysia International Golf Fair Symposium here.

Nazri, who is currently the tourism and culture minister, also noted that state Islamic enactments in the peninsula, except for Penang and the Federal Territories, prohibit the usage of “Allah”, and several other words, in non-Muslim creeds.

“There are no laws, no Islamic enactments in Sabah and Sarawak to disallow the use of Allah,” said Nazri.

“The practice here is that Allah is a reference to God only for the Muslims. In Sabah and Sarawak, it’s different, but in Semenanjung (peninsula Malaysia), it’s sensitive,” he added.

According to a 2010 census, Muslims are Malaysia’s largest religious group, followed by Buddhists. Christians are the third largest at 2.6 million, which comes up to about 10 per cent of the entire Malaysian population.

Bumiputera Christians, who number 1.6 million or form close to two-third of the Christian community in Malaysia, have used the word “Allah” when praying and speaking in the national language and their native tongues for centuries.