Amid ‘Allah’ row, churches call for courage to reject extremism

File photo of St Francis Xavier Church in Petaling Jaya. Inter-racial and inter-religious relations have become more uneasy in recent years, especially the row between Muslims and Christians over the word ‘Allah’. — Picture by Choo Choy May
File photo of St Francis Xavier Church in Petaling Jaya. Inter-racial and inter-religious relations have become more uneasy in recent years, especially the row between Muslims and Christians over the word ‘Allah’. — Picture by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 26 — Church leaders here today pleaded for more daring Malaysians to speak out against extremism and those abusing race and religion to sow discord, in a message ahead of National Day and Malaysia Day celebrations and amid an ongoing dispute over the use of the word “Allah”.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), an umbrella body representing 90 per cent of churches nationwide, stressed the importance of equality among Malaysia’s many races and faith followers, and said those bent on gaining power by using religion to create fear should be resisted at all costs.

“We call on all peaceful and peace-loving Malaysians to reject those who are racists and religious chauvinists in both their speech and actions.

“We ask all Malaysians to continue to show mutual respect, compassion and care for the human rights and dignity of each other and to demonstrate that with the courage to speak up against injustice and extremism of all kinds,” CFM said in a statement signed by key members of the clergy, including chairman Rev D. Eu Hong Seng.

Racial and religious divisions have shaped the Malaysian political landscape over the decades. Pro-Bumiputera affirmative action policies were implemented since the 1970s, but opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has argued that such measures benefit the well-connected Malay elite at the expense of ordinary citizens.

The social impact of race-based economic policies and politics — where the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties Umno, the MCA and MIC represent the Malays, Chinese and Indians respectively — is even more complex.

Inter-racial and inter-religious relations have also become more uneasy in recent years, with the row between Muslims and Christians over the word “Allah” exploding in 2010 when the High Court ruled that the Arabic word did not belong exclusively to the former. A church was firebombed and other places of worship were desecrated.

Last week, right-wing Muslim groups threatened to stage a protest at the gates of the Court of Appeal where the Catholic Church was appealing against the government’s decision to challenge the High Court’s decision.

The protest fizzled out and the Court of Appeal struck out the church’s bid, effectively prolonging the protracted legal dispute over one word — “Allah”.

In other incidents, Malay rights lobby Perkasa had once even suggested that Malay-language bibles which contain the word “Allah” be burned. The right-wing group also recently demanded that Putrajaya expel the Vatican’s first ambassador to Malaysia, Archbishop Joseph Marino, for his views on the “Allah” issue that it deemed provocative.

Racial hostilities here deepened when a pair of Chinese bloggers uploaded a photograph of themselves eating “bak kut teh” (a soupy pork dish), together with a Ramadan greeting, on Facebook several weeks ago. They were swiftly charged with sedition and even denied bail.

In another recent case, a Muslim dog trainer was arrested for a video she made three years ago where she is featured celebrating Aidilfitri with her four-legged friends.

But CFM told Malaysians to look past these adversities, and called for fair treatment of all those living under the Malaysian sun.

“Let us heighten our consciousness of and consideration for those others living around us and treat all peoples with love, honour and respect as we are all children of the living God,” it said.

“As Christians in Malaysia we continue to pray for the well-being and good of our beloved nation Malaysia.

“We pray that Almighty God will assist us in our nation-building endeavours as we continue to build and to prosper a nation on the basis of truth and justice so that we may live together in unity, peace and harmony,” CFM added.

The Christian body also offered prayers for the police and the Malaysian armed forces to keep vigilance over all Malaysians in their struggle to keep the nation safe and secure.

It also prayed for blessings on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the state Rulers, prime minister and his Cabinet ministers, all state mentris besar and chief ministers and their executive council members, as well as all parliamentarians and state assemblymen.

“As with our founding fathers of Malaysia we pray and seek the help of Almighty God to assist us as we envision and foster a nation uniting all peoples together; an inclusive nation rather than a divisive one. A nation for all,” it said.

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