Don’t vilify Christians over ‘Allah’ ruling, groups say

Group of Islamic non -governmental organisations (NGOs) gathered at the Sultan Sulaiman Club to discuss issues related to the use of the word 'Allah' on March 14, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Group of Islamic non -governmental organisations (NGOs) gathered at the Sultan Sulaiman Club to discuss issues related to the use of the word 'Allah' on March 14, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

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KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 18 — A coalition of civil society groups said no party or individual should provoke and spread the unfounded fear that Christians using the word ‘Allah’ in their prayers would lead to widespread apostasy of Muslims in Malaysia.

Under the aegis of human rights group Pusat Komas, the 66 organisations said there was Muslim suspicion that Christians praying in Bahasa Malaysia and using “Allah”, the Arabic word for god, were part of deliberate attempts to convert them.

“In reality Christians who recite Allah in prayers are predominantly Sabahans, Sarawakians and Orang Asli,” they said in a statement.

The coalition pointed out that Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak, many of whom have Christians families and friends, are comfortable and not alarmed by Christians praying to Allah, as is the case with Muslims in Indonesia and the Arab world.

“That suspicion against Christians praying to Allah is actually a cultural shock experienced by Peninsular Muslims and the natural outcome of two phenomena.

“Firstly it is the success of the National Language Policy which reversed the decline of Bahasa Malaysia amongst natives in Borneo, and secondly the closer integration of East and West Malaysia as more Sabahans and Sarawakians migrate to the Peninsula for education and employment,” they said.

Due to this cultural shock, the coalition said the ban on universal use of the word Allah by the Federal Cabinet in 1986 stemmed from the Muslim community’s concerns that they were becoming the target of aggressive proselytisation.

It added that this is incidentally a common concern of all other religious communities in Malaysia.

“Underlying such cultural shock is the ignorance that Christians in Nusantara have been praying to Allah in Bahasa Melayu, Bahasa Iban, Bahasa Bidayuh, Bahasa Lun Bawang, Lun Dayeh, Kelabit, and some other regional languages for as long as 476 years.

“The undisputed fact is that Muslims constitute near or more than 90 per cent of the population in Arab countries and Indonesia, even though Muslims and Christians have shared the word ‘Allah’ and other religious terms for 1,442 and 476 years respectively,” they said.

As such the High Court’s decision is restoring the pre-1986 status quo, as well as undoing a restriction on Sabah, Sarawak and Orang Asli Christians. This may be an unfounded threat felt by many Peninsular Muslims but not shared by Sabah and Sarawak Muslims.

“The High Court’s decision should be viewed positively for two grounds. Firstly it would strengthen Malaysia when Christians in Sabah and Sarawak can freely pray to Allah as their Christian cousins in Indonesian Kalimantan do. 

“Secondly it is reaffirming the status of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language for all. We urge Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to withdraw the Government’s appeal against the High Court’s decision,” said the coalition.

It called upon both the government and rakyat to seize the High Court’s decision as the closure of the 35-year-old polemic since the Federal Cabinet’s decision to ban its universal use. 

“All political parties should not exploit the High Court’s decision for narrow political mileage,” they said.

Earlier last Wednesday (March 10) the High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled that the government directive via a December 5, 1986 circular issued by the Home Ministry’s publications control division was unlawful and unconstitutional.

Following this, an appeal was filed by Putrajaya on Friday (March 12) against the ruling, which was confirmed by Solicitor-General Datuk Abdul Razak Musa.

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