CFM: Only BN can drive peace deal in interfaith row

A woman prays inside the church of Our Lady of Lourdes at Klang, outside Kuala Lumpur. — Reuters pic
A woman prays inside the church of Our Lady of Lourdes at Klang, outside Kuala Lumpur. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 26 — Calling the Cabinet’s 10-point solution “fatally flawed”, Malaysia’s leading church group urged the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) to push forward changes to laws in the states it controls to end a long-festering dispute over use the “Allah” word.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) asked Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak for a public commitment to repeal existing laws in the eight BN-controlled states out of 11 in the Malay peninsula that ostensibly run counter to the country’s supreme law, which provides for religious freedom among Malaysia’s sizeable non-Muslim community.

“This is to avoid any possibility that what occurred in Selangor will occur in any of these eight states and the Federal Territories,” CFM chairman Rev Eu Hong Seng said in an exclusive emailed statement to The Malay Mail Online.

Eu also asked for an undertaking that the BN coalition will not introduce similar restrictive laws in the three Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan that empower state Islamic religious enforcers to confiscate the holy books of non-Muslim faiths that contain a list of Arabic words, notably “Allah”.

Lawyers have denounced the Selangor state law as unconstitutional as its blanket ban on non-Muslim usage of “Allah” and other Arabic words is too broad, and not confined to Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution that prohibits non-Muslims from proselytising to Muslims. 

“We similarly call on the Pakatan state governments to do likewise,” added the pastor who is currently in Mexico.  

The three-party Pakatan Rakyat (PR) pact controls three states: Selangor, Penang and Kelantan.

On January 2, Selangor Islamic religious enforcers seized over 300 bibles in the Malay and Iban languages that contain the word “Allah”, ostensibly to investigate claims they were used to propagate Christianity among Muslims, an offence under a 1988 state law.

Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim however, has dithered on calls from allies who proposed a revision to the law restricting the propagation of non-Muslim religions to Muslims, saying he is waiting for an official response from the federal government.

In a reminder, Eu said CFM had in 2011, “accepted in good faith” the Cabinet’s 10-point deal, which allowed for the printing, import and distribution of bibles in Malay and native languages freely in Sabah and Sarawak.

The agreement proposed by the Cabinet imposed an extra condition on the native-language bibles in Peninsular Malaysia that contain the word “Allah”, requiring that they be stamped with a cross and marked as a Chritsian publication to prevent confusion among the Muslim majority who have been taught to believe the Arabic word for God is exclusive to their community.

The prime minister said on Friday the 10-point solution is subject to existing state and federal laws and pointed out that Sabah and Sarawak do not have enactments prohibiting non-Muslims from referring to God as “Allah”.

Ten out of Malaysia’s 13 states have similar legislation banning non-Muslim usage of “Allah” and other Arabic words. 

The exceptions are Penang, Sabah and Sarawak, and the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan.

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.

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