A Christian, Jill Ireland binti Lawrence Bill, will have judicial review proceedings heard against the Home Ministry and government on the confiscation of eight CDs belonging to her. Jill, who is a Sarawak Melanau, wants her CDs back that record Christian religious teachings containing the word 'Allah'.
She also desires a court declaration that she has "the legitimate expectation to continue to exercise the right to use and/or to continue to use the word 'Allah'," among other relief sought.
The items were seized from Jill on May 11, 2008 when she disembarked at the LCCT because they were considered "a threat to security" for using banned words and breaching Jakim guidelines, Bernama had reported.
Many Muslims here have grave misgivings about Christians using the word 'Allah' on doctrinal grounds, and their apprehension is merited. Christianity and Islam are ultimately two different religions inasmuch as both sides are agreed that they pray to the same Creator.
There is a little confusion but the confusion is about Christianity. Islam has a strong, simple and straightforward message - "There is no God but Allah".
All Malaysians are exposed to the message of Islam everywhere in the public domain whereas the Herald has only a small circulation of 14,000 copies. Besides, how many Malays do you know who saunter into church in order for them to be exposed and made vulnerable to conversion?
In contrast, government agencies and voluntary bodies are free to carry out dakwah (missionary activities) and with instruments of state like radio, TV and official programmes.
Hence, I should think more Catholics have converted to the less perplexing Islam. Can Perkim provide us the figures?
Trinity hard to understand
I was asked by a Malay whether Mary is the 'wife' of God. I'm presuming he came to this logical conclusion because Christians believe Jesus is Son of God, and Mary his mother. Ergo, Mary must have been married to God.
I was also asked by a Hindu if Jesus ought to be addressed as 'Allah' following the reasoning Jesus is God.
Although we're not a Christian family, my mother had signed me up for chapel service in mission school where the kids were taught hymns that ended with the verse "Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen".
Yet to this day, I do not understand the role and function of the Holy Spirit. The concept of the Trinity is difficult to comprehend for its adherents, much less for Malays sheltered from Christian teachings by the state.
Muslims generally believe the Christian God is three. Some Malays even think He is five, the fourth and fifth being Alpha and Omega - "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last (Revelation 22:13).
If I'm confused, at least I've the option of approaching say, the Rev Sivin Kit for clarification. But Rev Sivin cannot help clarify, for instance, Pak Ali's confusion. He could possibly be sent to jail if the authorities charge him for what they construe as preaching to a Malay; proselytizing to a Muslim is a crime under Malaysian law.
Whereas Pak Ali can be sentenced to a stint in a faith rehab centre if caught speaking to the good reverend and the Islamic religious department decided that his faith is shaken and stirred after the aforesaid contact.
Our socio-political milieu
Jesus was a prophet in a long line of Jewish prophets, says Islam. Christians might deem denying Jesus' divinity to be blasphemous.
However, by the same token, Muslims find equally sacrilegious the notion there is such as a Son of God and this offence encapsulated by Dr Mahathir Mohamad's stern reminder that God does not beget nor is He begotten.
This could be the reason why any representation of the nativity scene (left) was not permitted during an official public celebration of Christmas in 2004. The function was controversially conducted without any reference to Jesus or biblical references in order to "protect Muslim sensibilities".
It is probably these prohibited missing ingredients that has resulted in Christmas being symbolised in Malaysian popular imagination by a red-suited senior citizen who fails to monitor his cholesterol level, whereas the day's true meaning remains hidden from non-Christians.
Even so, ustaz Dr Mohd Ridhuan Tee Abdullah was still prompted to write in his Dec 27, 2009 Utusan column: "Many Malays have sidetracked because of being too close to Santa Claus", especially in Penang today which is "as if it is no longer a Malay island"; "It is full of Santa Claus".
Thus in Malaysia, it can be seen that fear and anxiety need not necessarily accord with rationality and reality. This might explain why Justice Lau Bee Lan's Herald judgment premised on cold points of law elicited a fiery response.
1Malaysia, unlike any other
The reaction to Lau's verdict was firebombing of churches. It's not like the Catholic Church hasn't encountered harassment before. Majlis Perbandaran Shah Alam several times halted and shifted its construction in the locality (the church finally took 12 years to complete).
Other residents of Shah Alam who object to the presence of a Hindu temple in their midst paraded a severed cow head. Shah Alam is on its way to becoming laudably beer-free and dog-scarce. There have been incidents where crucifixes are confiscated from pupils by school authorities.
In this sort of climate, it's not altogether surprising for some buildings billing themselves as churches not to carry a cross visible to passersby. Upon closer inspection, you might find a small commercial signboard proclaiming 'xyz Church', sometimes pointing to the second floor.
There is, on the other hand, immense clarity in Malaysia's practice of Islam. If you asked any six-year old child to describe a mosque, he will tell you it has dome and minaret. The more observant might spot crescent and star in the architecture.
Ask the child what a church looks like.
If he describes the Metro Tabernacle Church in Desa Melawati that was firebombed, he'd say it was a shoplot. The similarly firebombed Life Chapel church in Petaling Jaya is a bungalow. The Church of the Divine Mercy, Shah Alam could be a factory building in disguise.
Other churches approximate convention halls or hostels. One, smack in the middle of a row of link houses, sports the façade of a resort spa.
How can Malays and Muslims in Malaysia hope to understand Christianity (not as potential converts but as brothers) when the conflicting picture presented by the congregation to outsiders are incoherent scraps due to restrictions imposed by our authorities? And the veil of ignorance is not allowed to be lifted ...
Fighting about what?
Those Malaysians who support the use 'Allah' by non-Muslims need to understand that this is not a standalone element that can be divorced from the rubric of other factors.
Nor can the issue be resolved solely by the judiciary whether through the Herald, Jill Ireland or other cases. The now solidified Islamic superstructure, that Malaysians have acceded to over the past decades, will dictate limitations and how other houses of worship have no dignified place but are 'illegal squatters' under trees, e.g. the Hindu shrines.
Don't point the finger either at ordinary Muslims - 188,000 of them in one Facebook group - who are against non-Muslims using the word 'Allah'.
"In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful" begin the surahs in the Quran. So quite naturally, Muslims take this matter of 'naming' very seriously. That they would object and protest is wholly understandable although they certainly do not condone burning the churches.
Should by the remotest of chance Herald win the next court case, it would be but a Pyrrhic victory, and only on the legal front.
The battle is already lost on the social front, looking at the almost pathological misrepresentation that ascribes to Malaysian minorities "evil intentions" and "backdoor conspiracy to convert Muslims".
The firebombings only indicate a semi-colon or temporary pause to the verbal war. The exclamation mark is that minorities are viewed as so utterly untrustworthy and an existential threat to the well-being of Malay-Muslims.
HELEN ANG used to be a journalist. In future, she would like to be a practising cartoonist. But for the present, she is in the NGO circles and settling down to more serious writing and reading of social issues.