KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) must stand firm in its support of non-Muslims’ use of “Allah” and not allow itself to be cowed by fears of a backlash from the Muslim community, former minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said today.
The former PKR member said the pact should have shown the courage to support the proposal of three Selangor DAP assemblymen to amend the state law at the centre of the current religious row, instead of criticising them for their “hastiness”.
“Pakatan can only lead the country if it is brave enough to offer solutions to the difficult religious and ethnic issues that Umno seems adept at creating.
“Pakatan can only be stronger if they can take on Umno on these issues by presenting comprehensive solutions and not shying away as they are prone to do,” he wrote on his blog today.
Saying that rather than taking leadership in the issue that has so far been allowed to deteriorate by their rivals in Barisan Nasional (BN), PR was instead recoiling under the pressure of Umno’s “religious propaganda”
The former law minister in the Abdullah administration pointed out that the federal opposition pact has already stated its stand on the issue, and all that remained was to be consistent.
“In other words, the hard decision has already been made. If Pakatan really believes in its own decision and is willing to hold to it, then it’s only logical that it supports the repeal of the Enactment,” he added.
He further said that there existed sufficient evidence, both historical and present, to support the pact’s stance on the issue, as well as a moderate Muslims such as former Perlis Mufti Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin who are capable of arguing the position.
The opposition pact can no longer afford to focus on gaining electoral support, Zaid said, but must begin to show that it has the credentials to govern the country.
“Pakatan as a coalition that earns votes will no longer suffice. Pakatan’s strategy of withholding on the sensitive issues and dealing with them later, when power comes their way, will not work,” Zaid continued.
After the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) raided the Bible Society of Malaysia and carted away over 300 copies of Malay- and Iban-language bibles on January 3, DAP representatives Yeo Bee Yin (Damansara Utama), Lau Weng San (Kampung Tunku, and Rajiv Rishyakaran (Bukit Gasing) proposed amending the state law that was used for the enforcement.
The Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988, passed by the then BN state government, prohibits non-Muslims in Selangor from using 35 Arabic words and phrases in their faith, including “Allah”, “Nabi” (prophet), “Injil” (gospel) and “Insya’Allah” (God willing).
The three assemblymen had suggested changing the law to be in line with Article 11 of the Federal Constitution that guarantees the freedom of religion.
But the proposal was criticised by Opposition Leader and PKR de facto chief Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who said the three had acted with “hastiness” in making the call.
PAS subsequently sided with Anwar in saying the DAP lawmakers were premature with their call.
Tempers continue to simmer in the worsening row over the Arabic word that has now spilled beyond the legal case between the government and the Catholic Church over its right to use “Allah” in its weekly newspaper the Herald.
The ongoing legal dispute is still pending before the Federal Court, which is set to hear arguments from both sides on February 24 before deciding on whether it will hear an appeal by the Catholic Church.
Christians make up close to 10 per cent of the Malaysian population, or 2.6 million. Almost two-thirds of them are Bumiputera and are largely based in Sabah and Sarawak, where they routinely use Bahasa Malaysia and indigenous languages in their religious practices, including describing God as “Allah” in their prayers and holy book.