KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 27 — City archbishop Julian Leow Beng Kim has urged Catholics here to take heart that they can still call their God “Allah” during Mass and regular worship and prayer sessions.
In an open letter yesterday addressing the end of the road for the church’s six-year-long legal bid to publish the word “Allah” in its weekly newspaper, the senior clergyman told Catholics to take the Cabinet’s assurance at face value, that a top court decision upholding a government prohibition on non-Muslim use of the Arabic word was limited to the Herald and applicable nowhere else.
“The government has said that the decision of the Court of Appeal is only confined to the Herald’s case. We shall therefore take the government at its words,” he wrote.
“In no way does it include a prohibition in our Holy Scripture, the Al Kitab as well as in our praise and worship during our celebration of the Holy Mass and prayer sessions,” he added, seeking to allay the concerns of the Catholic Church’s Bahasa Malaysia-speaking followers.
Catholics form a sizeable number of the roughly 2.6 million Christian population in mainly Muslim Malaysia, having surpassed one million in 2010 according to the official Catholic Directory. Over half are Bumiputera from the Borneo side of the country.
Leow admitted to being uncertain on how the Court of Appeal’s 2013 ruling on “Allah” would affect the religious freedom of the country’s minorities, but said that the Catholic Church had gained much from this experience.
“We do not know what the future holds or what the repercussions of the decision of the Court of Appeal will be on rights of the minorities to practice their faith in the manner they consider in keeping with their religious practice, but we do know that we are a people of Faith and Hope,” he said in his pastoral letter, his first address to the local Catholic community since the Federal Court’s watershed decision last Wednesday.
He called on Catholics to make a stand for “justice and truth” besides protecting the rights of other religious minorities, but to do so peaceably.
“We need to engage and to dialogue with the ignorant and bring about understanding. We need to forgive and to reach out in love especially to those who misunderstand and are misinformed,” said Leow who is also president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia.
In the six-year-long dispute, the Catholic Church challenged the Home Ministry’s ban on the word “Allah” — used by its BM-speaking members — in the internal weekly paper Herald
In 2013, the Court of Appeal upheld the Home Ministry’s ban when it overturned the High Court’s landmark 2009 ruling — which was in favour of the Catholic Church.
After the 2013 decision by the appellate court, the Prime Minister had then said the ruling would not affect Sabah and Sarawak, while other senior ministers also said the ruling was only on the Herald.
But last Wednesday, the Catholic Church exhausted all legal avenues when the Federal Court rejected its second bid to get its appeal heard at the apex court.