End ‘Allah’ dispute by settling court case, pastors tell Putrajaya


(MM) – Putrajaya should end its five-year-old legal tussle with the Catholic Church by coming to a mutual agreement on the latter’s use of the word “Allah”, a Sabah-based group of pastors said today ahead of next week’s appeal on the matter at the Federal Court.

Unhappy that the Court of Appeal had last October upheld a ban on “Allah” in Catholic weekly Herald, the group of clergymen also insisted that the appellate court has “no rights to interfere in religion”.

Claiming that the Court of Appeal had exceeded its constitutional jurisdiction by ruling that use of the word “Allah” was not integral to the Christian faith, it said federal government still had a chance to set things right at the country’s highest court.

“We now call on Putrajaya to rectify the mistake by entering into a consent judgment before the Federal Court based on the 20 points assurance given to Sabah and Sarawak in the formation of Malaysia in 1963,” the Kota Kinabalu Chinese Pastors’ Fellowship (Chinese PFKK) said in a statement tonight.

A consent judgment takes place when all parties involved in a court matter agree to a set of terms to resolve the dispute.

In the 20-point agreement inked before the formation of Malaysia in 1963, it was stipulated among others that the people of Sabah are free to practice their own religion, and there should be no state religion in North Borneo.

The Sabah Constitution was, however, amended in 1973 by the state government to make Islam the religion of the state of Sabah.

Besides the Catholic Church’s challenge of the Home Ministry’s banning of “Allah” in its weekly paper Herald, two other cases involving Christian materials with the Arabic word for God will be up for case management here next week.

The Malay Mail Online understands that the Sabah SIB Church’s case over materials previously seized by the Home Ministry will be heard in chambers next Tuesday, while Sarawakian Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill’s case is scheduled to appear in court next Thursday.

In reference to these three cases, the Sabah group said : “This is a call to prayer for all parties as well as the judges to act with justice and righteousness.

“More importantly, they must act with conscience based on the Malaysia Agreement,” it added, referring to the 1963 agreement which incorporated the guarantee of complete religious freedom to Sabah and Sarawak.

Noting that one-third of the Cabinet ministers were from Sabah and Sarawak ― whose Christian natives had long used “Allah” in their indigenous languages, the group urged them to speak up for religious freedom regardless of their religious beliefs.

“The crisis facing us is one of freedom of religion enshrined in the Federal Constitution. They are duty bound to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution,” it said.

In a show of solidarity with the the state’s grassroots movement of Christian natives ― Perpaduan Anak Negeri (PAN) Sabah, the PFKK said it was “equally affected and offended” when their rights were “crippled” by government restrictions on the use of the Malay language bible Alkitab and the banning of the use of “Allah”.

Despite acknowledging Putrajaya’s 10-point solution in 2011 which allows Christians to use, print and distribute bibles with the word “Allah” with certain requirements for Peninsular Malaysia, the group called it “the latest deception” and “a 1Malaysia but 2-Alkitab policy”.

“We reject this one-country-two-system policy,” it said.

On October 14 last year, Justice Datuk Seri Mohamed Apandi Ali, in reading a summary of the Court of Appeal judgement by a three-man panel, said the home minister had acted well within his powers to disallow the Herald from using the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section.

The Catholic Church’s bid to appeal the appellate court’s October ruling is opposed by nine respondents, namely the Home Ministry, the government, the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association and the Islamic councils of six states.

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 form about 64 per cent or close to two-thirds 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.