PRESS STATEMENT ON ALLAH ISSUE (13 November 2013)
ASSOCIATION OF CHURCHES IN SARAWAK
Christian Ecumenical Worship Centre, Kuching
The Bumiputera Church will continue to use the word “Allah” as it is the fundamental to all aspects of our profession and practice of our Christian faith.
As we have heard from the public forum today, and has been stated numerous times to the media by church leaders from both East and Peninsula Malaysia, the word “Allah” has been used or spoken by the native communities of Sarawak and Sabah for generations. “Allah” has been used long before the formation of Malaysia and is part of our native language. It is used in all aspects of Christian faith and practice by Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christian and other native speaking including in services, prayers praise, liturgy, worship and religious education. As such, it is reasonable to expect that the word also be used in our Christian publications and multi-media resources.
It thus makes no sense that only Christians in Sarawak and Sabah may use “Allah”. Christians from Sarawak and Sabah move across the country from East to West to live and work and carry with them their Alkitab and other Christian materials in the Bahasa Malaysia language. Even non-native from West Malaysia own and read the Alkitab as Bahasa Malaysia is our national language.
It also makes no sense for the Court of Appeal’s recent judgement to be interpreted as being applicable only to The Herald. While The Herald may have been the case brought before the court, it is our view that the judges have overstepped their boundaries in determining that using the word “Allah” was not “integral to the Christian” faith. In deciding thus, the judges have arrogated to themselves a right that does not belong to any human court of law-the right to determine religion. It is the fundamental right of every religion to determine its expression and practice of its own faith.
As such, the “Allah” controversy is about unreasonable government policies and laws that infringe on the right of non-Muslim Malaysians to practice their religion of choice. In the face of such unreasonableness we cannot and should not remain silent.
The right of native Bumiputras to profess and practice their faith in their own language is safeguarded by the Federal Constitution. When Sarawak and Sabah agreed to join in the formation of Malaysia in 1963, they did so as sovereign states and with conditions attached; these being known as the Sarawak 18-point and Sabah-20-point Agreements a kind of covenant to which Malaya was a party.
It was not coincidence, it was intentional that the first point in both these agreements concerns the freedom of religion, Sarawak and Sabah consented to form the greater Malaysian nation with Islam as the religion of the Federation on the express condition that there will be complete freedom of religion without hindrance placed on other religions. According to these agreements, Sarawak and Sabah were not to have any official religion.
We thus view with grave concern the Court of Appeal judgement on The Herald which has re-interpreted Article 3 of the Federal Constitution to mean that non-Muslim religions may only be practiced in peace and harmony subject to Islam. We do not believe this was ever the original meaning of Article 3, which simply states that other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.
We need more that just a display of and ad hoc benevolence by the Malaysian Government. We need a tangible commitment from the authorities to respect and uphold the freedom of religion guaranteed. By the Federal Constitution which is the supreme law of the nation.
We thus ask the Government to recognise and affirm:
1. that the word “Allah” is an integral part of, and inherent to the practice of the Christian faith by Bahasa Malaysia-speaking and other native speaking churches in Sarawak and Sabah and Christians in and from these two States;
2. that the Churches expect that guarantee of religious freedom enshrined in the Federal Constitution when Sarawak and Sabah joined Malaya to form the Malaysian nation will be full respected and honoured; and
3. that the 10-point Agreement by the Federal Cabinet in April 2011 on the printing, importation and distribution on the Alkitab in which the word “Allah” is an integral part of the Bahasa Malaysia Holy Scriptures and also on the practice of the Christian faith in Bahasa Malaysia-speaking churches based on the Alkitab, will be fully honoured.
Two thirds of Christians in Malaysia are the 1.6 million Bumiputera Christians of Sarawak and Sabah who use the Bahasa Malaysia language of worship in addition to their native languages. The rights of these Bumiputera Christians must be respected and upheld.
Any attempt to forbid the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims would be most regrettable and wholly unacceptable as it is a flagrant disregard and betrayal of the Malaysia Agreements which guarantees the inalienable rights of non-Muslims in Sarawak and Sabah to complete religious freedom.
With greatest respect, we asked that these rights be given its rightful place and that religious bigotry, racism and extremism should not be allowed to show its ugly head. Mutual respect and acceptance of each other community of faith should be the order of the day in a plural society like Malaysia.
We are most heartened by YAB Pehin Sri Chief Minister of Sarawak public stand that Allah is non-issue in Sarawak. We are also most encouraged to know that many members of Council Negeri had expressed their dismay and deep disappointment over how the Allah issue was handled.
Malaysia was formed and built upon trust and mutual respect of all that made the rich diversity of Malaysia. Let us build upon that foundation and defend it from any who would want to rob it away from us.
God bless Malaysia!
Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok
Chairman, Association of Churches in Sarawak
Dated on: Wednesday 13th November 2013