Borneo churches insist on using ‘Allah’, slams appeal ruling

Archbishop Emeritus Soter Fernandez, the retired second archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, mingling with members of the public outside the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya October 14, 2013. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Archbishop Emeritus Soter Fernandez, the retired second archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, mingling with members of the public outside the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya October 14, 2013. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 — Sabah and Sarawak churches maintained today that they will continue calling their god “Allah”, despite the Court of Appeal ruling today that the Arabic word was exclusive to Muslims.

Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok, chairman of the Association of Churches in Sarawak, said it was “utterly irresponsible” and “grossly demeaning, to say the least”, for the appellate court to rule that the use of the word “Allah” was not integral to the Christian faith.

“In the meantime, Christians in Sabah and Sarawak continue to reverently worship their Allah until the Kingdom comes.

“What are you going to do about it?” said Lapok in a statement today.

Bishop Datuk Dr Thomas Tsen, president of the Sabah Council of Churches, also said separately that Bumiputera Christians in Sabah will keep using the word “Allah” in their worship and in the Al-Kitab.

“We’ll still do what we’ve been doing all this time,” Tsen told The Malay Mail Online today.

“‘Allah, bapa di syurga’ (Our Father, who art in Heaven) — that’s our Lord’s prayer. You cannot ask me to change the way I call our Father,” he added.

Three Muslim judges in the Court of Appeal unanimously overturned today the 2009 Kuala Lumpur High Court ruling that allowed the Catholic Church to use the word “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its weekly publication, the Herald.

“It is our common finding that the usage of the name ‘Allah’ is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity,” Justice Datuk Seri Mohamed Apandi Ali said in the ruling.

“Such usage, if allowed, will inevitably cause confusion within the community,” he added.

Tsen, however, pointed out today that Arabic Christians in the Middle East use the word “Allah” in worship.

“It’s no problem. I don’t know why this is so sensitive to the peninsula,” he said.

“We are 1 Malaysia... It’s our language. Nobody can say this is a language that can bother other people,” added the church elder.

Two-thirds of Christians in Malaysia are Bumiputera who are largely based in Sabah and Sarawak and number some 1.6 million and who use Bahasa Malaysia and  indigenous languages in their prayer services and in the Al-Kitab, the Malay-language bible.

Christians comprise around 9 per cent of Malaysia’s 28-million strong population, the majority of whom are Malay-Muslims.

Lapok, who is also the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Southeast Asia, said today that the Church did not need an apologist from the outside to determine “what decree is integral or not regarding her faith”.

“In fact, the ruling has far-reaching implications; it is not only insensitive to Christians in Sabah and Sarawak, but it is an insidious aberration to the spirit of ‘muhhibah’ (co-operation) which the government has been so desperately trying to promote among all Malaysians. It is repugnant to the universal common sense,” he said.

The Sabah and Sarawak churches said in a statement last Friday that prohibiting Christians from calling their god “Allah” violates the 1963 Malaysia Agreement upon which the country was founded.

They also stressed that the 10-point solution issued by the Najib administration in 2011 allows the printing, importation and distribution of the Al-Kitab that contains the word “Allah”.

The Catholic Church said today that it would contest the Court of Appeal’s decision, pointing out that the ruling contradicts Putrajaya’s 10-point solution.

Today’s verdict casts doubt over how the judiciary will rule on two similar court cases over the word “Allah”: one is by Sidang Injil Borneo (Borneo Evangelical Church) Sabah, who is suing the Home Ministry for confiscating its Malay-language Christian education publications, which contain the word “Allah”, in 2007.

The other is over the 2008 government seizure of audio CDs, which also contain the word “Allah”, that belong to Jill Ireland, a Sarawakian Christian.

Both cases have been put on the backburner the past few years pending the disposal of the Catholic Church’s case.

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