Priest reveals proof Christians used ‘Allah’ before Merdeka

prayer book
A prayer book in Malay, published in 1905, containing the word ‘Allah’. – The Malaysian Insider pic, January 7, 2014.

By Jennifer Gomez, The Malaysia Insider

A century-old Catholic prayer book is the latest proof that Christians in the Malay peninsula not only prayed in Malay more than 100 years ago, but also communicated with each other and the church in the language, says a priest at the centre of a new “Allah” row in Malaysia.

Catholic weekly Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew said the 1905 publication was a Malay language prayer book and not Indonesian.

“From the spelling of the words, you would see it is old Malay. And you can find the modern translation of the old Malay used in the scripture in the Alkitab,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

title page
The title page of the ‘Kabaktian Sahari-harian’ (Daily Prayer) sent to Father Lawrence Andrew. – The Malaysian Insider pic, January 7, 2014.

His church and other Catholic churches in Selangor managed to avoid disruption to their Sunday services when planned protests by certain Muslim non-governmental organisations were called off over their use of the word “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia services.

Andrew said the prayer book quoted the First Letter of Peter, one of the verses in old Malay read:

“Rendahkanlah diri mu dibawah tangan berkuasa Allah itu, sopaia dia angkatkanlah kamu di waktu katemuannha.”

In the Akitab, the verse read: “Oleh itu, rendahkanlah diri kamu ke bawah tangan Allah yang berkuasa, supaya Dia meninggikan kamu pada masa yang ditetapkan-Nya.”

The priest reiterated it was particularly important for Malay-speaking Christians to be able to pray in Malay, especially for those from Sabah and Sarawak who were living in the peninsula.

“There seems to be a general misconception that the use of the word is a new trend in the Christian faith, but that is not true. It has been used for hundreds of years.

“And this prayer book is just one example that Catholics in Malaya were praying in Malay before the British came and English was widely used, alongside Malay by the East Malaysians,” Andrew said.

He said the Malay prayer book was mailed to him by the daughter of its owner not long ago.

In a hand-written note that came with the prayer book titled “Kabaktian Sahari-harian” (Daily Prayer), the sender wrote: “This book belonged to Mary De Silva who was a boarder in the convent at St Anne’s church, Bukit Mertajam, around the year 1919, where this book was used. Now the book belongs to her daughter Lily De Silva who lives with her son in Penang”.

Putrajaya won its case last October against the Herald at the Court of Appeal, which overturned a 2009 High Court ruling that Herald has the constitutional right to use the word “Allah”.

The church is appealing against the decision at the Federal Court.

Despite the court process, tensions have risen in the past few weeks over the church’s use of the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia service, leading to the prospect of demonstrations outside churches.

Father Lawrence Andrew (second from left) and Archbishop Emeritus Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam (third from left) at their meeting with Selangor police chief Datuk Mohd Shukri Dahlan yesterday. – The Malaysian Inisder pic, January 7, 2014.

It is understood more than 80 police reports have been lodged against Andrew over his remark that the word “Allah” would continue to be used in Catholic churches in Selangor.

His comments came following a statement from the new director of the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais), Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad, who had said that the state religious authorities would write to churches in Selangor asking them to comply with the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation among Muslims) Enactment 1988.

Andrew’s comments resulted in several Muslim groups and Selangor Umno threatening to protest in front of churches in the state on Sunday but the protests were called off at the last minute.