Sarawak minister to Putrajaya: Put foot down on religious freedom

File photo shows three Catholic priests (left) and two Muslim men (right) waiting outside the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya on August 22, 2013 for the hearing of the Catholic Church’s appeal on the ‘Allah’ case. — Picture by Choo Choy May
File photo shows three Catholic priests (left) and two Muslim men (right) waiting outside the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya on August 22, 2013 for the hearing of the Catholic Church’s appeal on the ‘Allah’ case. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 ― Barisan Nasional (BN) lawmaker Tan Sri Dr James Masing has urged Putrajaya to uphold the “religious freedom” as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, following a controversial raid by Selangor Islamic authorities on the Bible Society Malaysia yesterday.

The outspoken president of Sarawak Peoples’ Party (PRS), a component party of the ruling coalition, also said yesterday that rules on religion must not be dictated nor influenced by politics.

“Religious policies should not be decided based on political expediency but rather it should be decided on sound religious principles tempered by centuries of divine wisdom,” said Masing, as quoted by English daily The Borneo Post.

Masing also told the press that he was not surprised by the move taken by Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) against the BSM yesterday.

“Nevertheless the most disappointing thing in Malaysia is when the constitution says in no uncertain terms ‘freedom of religion’ existed in the country. It doesn’t say ‘limited freedom of religion’,” added Masing, who is Sarawak’s land development minister.

In a raid yesterday, Jais also seized copies of both the Malay-language and Iban bibles that contain the word “Allah”, while two BSM officials were also held by police.

It is understood that the action was taken under Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 that prohibits non-Muslims in Selangor from using 35 Arabic words and phrases, including the word for God, “Allah”.

Jais’ raid comes after its newly-appointed director, Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad, said last Thursday that letters will be sent to all churches in Selangor to ask them to comply with the Selangor 1988 enactment.

In a move set to complicate Putrajaya’s bid to calm east Malaysian unease over the “Allah” row, the Selangor Sultan had on November 14 renewed his decree that the Arabic word for God be barred to all non-Muslims in the state.

Responding to the recent ruling by the Court of Appeal, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah Al-Haj has also called for an immediate halt to the word’s usage in the Malay language Bible al-Kitab and the Catholic weekly, The Herald.

In October, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had said that a recent Court of Appeal’s decision on the use of the word “Allah” does not affect Christians in Sabah and Sarawak.

The 10-point solution, which was issued by the Najib administration shortly before the Sarawak state election in 2011, allows bibles in the Malay and indigenous languages to be distributed freely without such conditions in Sabah and Sarawak.

But yesterday’s raid on BSM, which holds distribution rights to the AlKitab in Sabah and Sarawak, has now thrown this into doubt.

BSM said yesterday that its customers are not just the churches in Sabah and Sarawak, but also Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians, Orang Asli churches and other Malay-speaking Christians in the peninsula.

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.