'Allah' appeal inconsistent with government's 10-point solution, Archbishop says

The Malay-language translation of the Bible – Picture by Choo Choy May
The Malay-language translation of the Bible – Picture by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 — Putrajaya's appeal against the 2009 High Court ruling giving the Catholic Church the right to use the word “Allah” is inconsistent with the Najib administration's 10-point solution in April 2011, said Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam.

Pakiam noted that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had issued the 10-point deal despite knowing of the Home Ministry’s appeal in 2010, saying that the 2011 solution amounted to Putrajaya’s nod over the High Court’s landmark decision.

“I am advised by my solicitors and I verily believe that in light of the letter dated 11.4.2011, the Government of Malaysia (the 1st and 2nd Appellants) logically ought to have discontinued their appeal,” Pakiam said in an affidavit that was made available to The Malay Mail Online today, referring to the Home Ministry and the government.

In the affidavit filed in July together with an application to strike out the case, Pakiam laid down the arguments on why he considered the 10-point deal as rendering the government's appeal as being an “academic” case.

Pakiam said the April 11, 2011 letter could be seen as a recognition and acceptance by the government of the Christians' rights to use the word “Allah”, after the community was told it was free to print Bibles here in languages using the word.

“The letter dated 11.4.2011 demonstrates that the Government of Malaysia (the 1st and 2nd Appellants) recognises and accepts the rights of Christians to use the word 'Allah' by virtue of Christians being allowed to freely import and locally print Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and in the indigenous languages of Sabah and Sarawak.”

Pakiam also argued that the letter acknowledged that the Christians' use of the word would not threaten national security and public peace.

He went on to say that it purportedly shows the government's acceptance of the Catholic Church's right to use the Arabic word in Christian publications, including its weekly publication Herald.

“By extension, the letter dated 11.4.2011 is also therefore clear and unequivocal evidence of the 1st and 2nd Appellant’s recognition and acceptance of the Respondent’s right to use the word 'Allah' in Christian publications such as Herald-The Catholic Weekly which makes frequent references to these Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia.

“Finally, the letter dated 11.4.2011 amounts to an acceptance of the decision of the High Court dated 31.12.2009 which quashed the 1st and 2nd Appellants’ decision.

“In light of the unequivocal representation made to the Christian community permitting the use of the word Allah, there is no longer any legitimacy in the appeal,” said Pakiam, the Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur.

The Court of Appeal is set to hear the Catholic Church's striking-out application on August 22.  If it fails in its bid to strike out the case, the appeal will be heard on September 10.

Ahead of the heated Sarawak state polls in 2011, Putrajaya had issued the 10-point solution to the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) - an umbrella body of churches nationwide - which allowed the Christian community to publish and distribute Malay-language bibles.

The letter was seen as a move to quell the Christian community's unhappiness over the government's impounding shipments of the bibles, due to the presence of the word “Allah” in its reference to the Christian God.

Last month, the CFM had urged the Najib administration to honour its 10-point solution, following reignited debate over the non-Muslims' right to use the word “Allah”.

The “Allah” row erupted in 2008 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the Herald’s newspaper permit, prompting the Catholic Church to sue the government for violating its constitutional rights.

In 2009, the High Court made a landmark ruling in favour of the Catholic Church, when it said the Middle Eastern word was not the exclusive right of Muslims and the Herald could publish it in its Bahasa Malaysia section, which caters to its Bumiputera congregation.

In January 2010, the Home Ministry filed an appeal, but there was a three-year hiatus before the dates were fixed for the case at the Court of Appeal.

Christians are Malaysia’s third-largest religious population at 2.6 million people, according to statistics from the 2010 census, behind Muslims and Buddhists.

Bumiputera Christians form about 64 per cent, or close to two-thirds of that figure, and have prayed in the national language and their native tongues for centuries.

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