Thursday, December 27, 2007

Do Malaysians have the constitutional right to use the word “Allah”?

SIB's application for judicial review on use of word 'Allah' to be heard on Jan 16

Thursday, 27 December 2007, 07:47pm

Praying©The Sun
by S.Tamarai Chelvi and Pauline Puah

• Dompok: BM belongs to all Malaysians

KUALA LUMPUR (Dec 27, 2007):
The High Court here today postponed the hearing of an application for leave by the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) and its president for a judicial review against the Internal Security Minister’s decision to stop them from importing Christian books which contain the word “Allah”.

They are also seeking a declaration that they have the constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in all their religious publications and practices, and not just within the church.

Appellate and Special Powers Court Judge Lau Bee Lan decided in chambers to postpone the hearing to Jan 16, after Senior Federal Counsel Azizah Nawawi informed the judge that there were discussions between the two parties to resolve the issue.

Datuk D.P Naban, Lim Heng Seng and Bobby Chew appeared for the applicants, SIB and its president Pastor Jerry W.A Dusing @ Jerry W.Patel, who filed the application on Dec 10.

It is learnt that the government has tasked a minister and a deputy minister to discuss with SIB on how best to resolve the issue.

SIB, also known as the Evangelical Chuch of Borneo, is seeking a court order to quash the minister's decision to refuse the import of four titles and withhold delivery of another two titles impounded under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA).

The publications are:

• Anak Besar Umur 9-11 Tahun, Tahun I (Januari-Jun)
• Anak Besar Umur 9-11 Tahun, Tahun II (Julai -Disember)
• Anak Besar Umur 9-11 Tahun, Tahun III (Januari -Jun)
• Anak Besar Umur 9-11 Tahun, Tahun III (Julai -Disember)
• Anak Tengah Umur 6-8 Tahun, Tahun III (Januari - Jun)
• Anak Tengah Umur 6-8 Tahun, Tahun III (Julai-Disember)

According to court documents, they are also seeking the following declarations:

• Based on Articles 11 (freedom of religion) and 12 (rights in respect of education) of the Federal Constitution, it is their constitutional right to use the term "Allah" in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia translations of the Bible, and in all religious materials used to instruct their children and in their practice of the religion;

• The right to import such publications;

• They are guaranteed equality under the law and protected from discrimination on the grounds of religion, in particular the PPPA and Internal Security Act 1960;

• Article 3(1) stating that Islam is the official religion of the Federation does not authorise the government to prohibit SIB from using the term “Allah” or own materials in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia using the word “Allah”;

• Article 3(1) guarantees the right of all religions to be practised in peace and harmony, and they have the right to use the term “Allah” and the relevant religious materials “not only in churches but in any place, dwelling or building in the practice of their religion”;
• The order published in the Gazette - PU (A)15/82 - banning the Alkitab, under Section 22 of the Internal Security Act on the grounds that the document is prejudicial to national interest and security, is beyond the Act’s legal authority and unconstitutional;

• Under Article 11(4), Islam and the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among Muslims is a state matter and not a federal matter, except for the federal territories; and

• the government’s categorisation of the use of the words “Allah, “Baitullah”, “Solat” and “Kaabah” as words and phrases exclusive to Islam, and that this is a “sensitive” and a “security issue, through the order published in the Gazette and the circular KKDN. S.59/3/6/A dated Dec 5, 1986, is unconstitutional.

Dusing claimed the minister failed to take into account various relevant considerations, such as the fact that Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christian natives had used the word "Allah" for generations, and "Allah" was also used in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia translations of the Bible.

He said the congregationists were mainly native bumiputra from various tribal groups in Sabah, and used a common language, Bahasa Malaysia, in their worship and religious instruction.

"From the earliest days of the church, the Bahasa Malaysia congregations for the church have been freely using the Alkitab, the Bahasa Indonesia translation of the Holy Bible, wherein the word 'Allah' appears," he said.

"The Christian usage of the word 'Allah' predates Islam. 'Allah' is the name of God in the old Arabic Bible as well as in the modern Arabic Bible used by Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and other places in Asia [and] Africa, where the languages that are in contact with Arabic have been using the word 'Allah' to refer to God," he said.

"In Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, the word 'Allah' has been used continuously in the printed edition of Matthew's Gospel in Malay in 1629, in the first complete Malay Bible in 1733 and in the second complete Malay Bible in 1879 until today in Perjanjian Baru and Alkitab," he added.

Dusing said that on Aug 15, the church's supervisor of children education, Kinambo Gaduan and a staff were travelling with three boxes of educational materials from Surabaya, Indonesia to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, with a transit stop at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang, Selangor.

He said the materials were detained by a customs officer at the LCCT, and received no reply to his letter to the director-general of Customs requesting the return of the books.

He added that after further enquiries, he was informed that the publications had been handed over to the Internal Security Ministry.

After pursuing the matter with the ministry, Dusing received a letter from the ministry dated Sept 10 stating that the import of the publications had been denied, that Christian publications containing the four words "Allah", "Baitullah", "Solat" and "Kaabah" cannot be distributed in Malaysia. The letter also stated that “the publications can raise confusion and controversy in Malaysian society".

The church sent an appeal letter dated Sept 24 to the minister, stating that the previous prime minister had allowed the use of the word "Allah" in their publications.

Dusing said the church received another letter dated Oct 24 from the ministry, signed by Yaacob Samat from the Quranic Text and Publication Control Division, stating that all their publications, whether imported or published in Malaysia, which contained words or phrases exclusive to Islam, such as "Allah", "Baitullah", "Solat" and "Kaabah" were prohibited from distribution in Malaysia.

Among the grounds for the prohibition are:

• Article 3(1) states that Islam is the official religion of the Federation and Article 11(4) permits laws to be made to control the propagation of religious doctrine or belief among Muslims;

• Due to differences in the words and phrases prohibited, confusion has arisen as to what words and phrases are prohibited in Christian publications in the Indonesian language;

• In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was uneasiness (kegelisahan) among the community and problems of enforcement among religious officers due to differences about the words and phrases prohibited;

• The issue has become sensitive and has been classified as a security issue, and the Internal Security Ministry is to deal with the issue;

• Through PU (A) 15/82, the government gazetted the prohibition of the Alkitab in Malaysia under Section 22 of the Internal Security Act;

• Special exemption was made to the prohibition, permitting the Alkitab to be owned by Christians in churches;

• There was continuing confusion and uneasiness in the community when enforcement on the use of the words and phrases in religious publications was not effective;

• On May 19, 1986, the government decided that the words “Allah”, “Kaabah”, “Baitullah” and “Solat” are words and phrases exclusive to Islam and cannot be used in materials of other religions except to explain Islamic concepts;

• The government informed Christian publishers to comply with this through circular KKDN. S.59/3/6/A dated Dec 5, 1986;

• The government permits the use of the Alkitab in churches only and not in any other places but this does not apply to other Christian publications;

•The government practices religious freedom as enshrined in the constitution but bears the responsibility of avoiding any confusion in the community of various religions, which if allowed to occur, will threaten security and public order; and

• Religious sensitivity must be respected and preserved by all, including the applicants as a religious institution with many followers.

Dompok: BM belongs to all Malaysians

PETALING JAYA (Dec 27, 2007): The authorities should allow the use of Bahasa Malaysia, including the word “Allah”, in all publications and not restrict it to Islamic materials, a federal minister said.

“My view is Bahasa Malaysia is the national language for all, irrespective of the racial groups or religious beliefs. It should be a matter of pride for all Malaysians, followers of all religions, to use the national language for their worship,” said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Bernard Dompok.

The bumiputra Christians have been using “Allah” in reference to the Almighty for a long time, he told theSun.

For instance, he said, the younger generation of the Kadazan, who could not converse in their mother tongue, used “Allah” instead of “Kinoingan” in Kadazan in their prayers. “They pray to ‘Allah’, just like the Indonesian and Arab Christians.”

Dompok, who is in charge of keeping the Prime Minister’s Department abreast of issues faced by Christians, was asked to comment on recent cases involving the right to use the word “Allah”.

He said “Allah” was also part of the Bahasa Malaysia vocabulary, and the Internal Security Ministry's directive that the Catholic weekly, Herald, stop publishing its Bahasa Malaysia section, could jeopardise the government’s effort to promote the national language as the language of unity.

In a letter on Dec 10, the ministry informed Herald to stop its Bahasa Malaysia segment. Its annual permit expires on Dec 31, and it has yet to receive a renewed permit.

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