Max disagrees with church action

Dr Maximus J Ongkili

Daily Express – Water, Energy and Green Technology Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Dr Maximus J Ongkili (pic) became the first Christian Minister in the Federal Cabinet to openly distance himself from the church action of seeking a court solution on the use of the word “Allah” in Christian worship.

“The church taking the case to court is not the solution. Once the court makes a ruling, it sets a precedent and becomes law. Whatever the verdict, it makes some happy and others angry,” he told Daily Express, while stressing that it was only his personal view.

He said his view is in response to the ongoing heated dispute in peninsula since the use of Allah in churches is not an issue in Sabah and Sarawak, which were using it long before the formation of Malaysia.

He conceded that some churches tacitly backed his view while others were opposed, saying it is a constitutional right to be free to worship as they pleased. “To me it is a matter of interpretation but I believe that we should also have a spirit of compromise in order to live in harmony.”

He blamed the opposition for politicising the “Allah” issue until it became emotive.

When the 10-point concession was given to Sabah and Sarawak to use the word “Allah” in their Bahasa worship and publication, politicians jumped in and alleged that the Federal Government was not fair to allow the two states but not in the peninsula..

As religion is a state matter in those states, decision by the respective administrations is supreme.

As for Malay speaking Christians from Sabah and Sarawak attending church services in West Malaysia, he said the Federal Government was not overlooking their dilemma but now it had become so emotive and political.

“We are not living in a perfect world. In loving our neighbor, we must be sensitive to others who are not comfortable with our use of Kalimah Allah.

“Theologically speaking, if ‘Allah’ is critical in my prayers, then I can understand the sentiment. But if other words carry the same meaning (in addressing God), then I will not want to hurt others whose views are different from mine,” he said.

The PBS Deputy President said it is important for Christians to practise moderation and compromise in a multi-religious country like Malaysia for the sake of peaceful co-existence and harmony with others.

“Besides Allah, I can always address God as Bapa Syurga in Bahasa, my native dialect ‘Kinorohingan’ Bapa Syruga, or Latin/Hebrew Jehovah, Yahweh and Trinity God in English. Using such terms does not in any way affect the quality of my worship.”

He said Christians, especially, should let the principle of “Love thy Neighbour” prevail in their worship. “Religious quarrels have no winners but all are losers.

History has proven without fail that religious conflict could become bloody and potent.

“Let us move from tolerance to appreciation of our diversity.

Tolerance is merely tolerating,” says Dr Max, who was in charge of the National Unity and Integration Department from 2004-2008.

He said national unity is still close to his heart and cited Sabah as an example which has evolved from its head-hunting days to accommodating differences.

“We have learnt from history that being on a warpath and fighting achieve nothing, except the trophies of skulls as household decorations. Through intermarriages, differences melt away and acceptance becomes the norm.

We have come to appreciate our relatives of other faiths.”

On the claim that Christians want to use “Allah” as a translation for God in order to convert Muslims, he said there is no proof of this. By and large, he believed Christians are law-abiding, know their boundary and are aware that proselytising Muslims is prosecutable.

On the recent alleged enticing of hardcore poor Christians in Pitas to Islam, he believed it is not the policy of the Islamic institutions concerned but the work of overzealous officers.

The Court of Appeal in October last year overturned a 2009 High Court decision which allowed the Catholic newspaper the Herald to use the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section of the publication. In the judgment, the court found that the word “Allah” was not essential to or an integral part of Christianity.

The Catholic Church has filed an appeal against the decision with the Federal Court, which is expected to hear the case on March 5.