Christians in the two Malaysian Borneo states can continue to use the term 'Allah' for God in Malay print as they have done for the last 300 years.
The Federal Government still sees no reason why Christians in Peninsular Malaysia should use the term 'Allah' for God even in Malay print.
However, East Malaysians resident in the Peninsula have to respect the prohibition.
These pronouncements came from Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz (left) in an exclusive interview yesterday in Kuala Lumpur with five journalists from the Borneo Post, Utusan Borneo and the Oriental Daily.
“Christians in Sabah and Sarawak need not worry over this issue because it is a common tradition there. I have been to an Iban church service and I heard 'Allah' used there,” he said.
Asked why the need for two sets of rules on the usage of the word, he stressed that this is not a unique practice as Malaysia also has two sets of laws on other matters, citing the Syariah Court and the Civil Court as examples.
Nazri went on to say that the situation in the Peninsula is different as 'Allah' was only introduced into Christian worship and publication a few years ago.
Going to court is no solution
“Muslims in Peninsular Malaysia cannot accept it as 'Allah' was never used in Christian preaching until recently and they questioned the motive behind the substitution of Tuhan for 'Allah'”.
Nazri cited the Federal Constitution to point out that no other religion can be propagated to Malay Muslims and this article had been enacted in all states in Malaysia where the Sultan is the Head of State.
“So this excludes the Federal territory, Penang, Malacca, Sarawak and Sabah,” explained Nazri. “In these states, for the ban on the use of 'Allah' to be implemented, the Home Minister can use the Printing Act to enforce it.”
He added that Christians should recognize that using 'Allah' in their worship and publications is sensitive to Muslims and that this issue was not going to be solved by going to court.
“The government has a duty to stop acts of disrespect and provocation that inflame religious and racial feelings in the nation even if there was no law that stated that these acts were wrong,” he said.
Nazri pointed out as an example that there was no law against stepping on a cow's head.
Still, when a group of Malays did that in protest against the relocation of a Hindu temple, “we hauled them up and charged them because that act was disrespectful to Hindus”.
Justification for illegal acts
On the same score, if the usage of 'Allah' by Christians was – it certainly is, he said – sensitive to Muslim, the government has to act even if the courts deem it illegal, according to Nazri.
The minister clarified that it was not the Government that dragged the matter to court.
He pointed the finger of blame at Catholic Archbishop Murphy Pakiam (left), leaving no choice for government but defend itself.
The government, he said, is continuing with the case in court and had applied for a stay of execution “which the other party had agreed to”.
The High Court, in its ruling on Dec 31, had contended that “there was no evidence to show that the use of 'Allah' (by non-Muslims) could incite violence”.
Nazri conceded that such incidents had not happened during the hearing and the government could not, therefore, produce such evidence in court.
The subsequent arson attacks on the churches, continued Nazri, “proved that the government was right” (the 'Allah' ban).
Nation's shield: The ban
He did not touch on allegations that the fire-bombings of churches were stage-managed (to convince the courts).
“Banning the use of 'Allah' by Christians was a pre-emptive move to stop outbreaks of religious violence in the nation,” said Nazri.
Asked how the continuing controversy could be solved, he replied that here had to be a solution soon.
In the meantime, he appealed to the people involved to be calm and rational.
The Federal Government's apparent about-turn albeit in Malaysian Borneo, after 11 churches were fire bombed and a Sikh temple stoned , is front-page news in the Borneo Post today.
The Utusan Borneo also has a Kadazandusun section in its Sabah edition.
The concession is seen here as the Federal Government choosing a face-saving exit strategy recently suggested by a group of Sabah Justices of the Peace who used “compromise” as an euphemism.
These JPs were publicly taking issue with their President Clarence Bongkos Malakun for openly advocating that Christians forgo using the word 'Allah' “to pacify the Malays for the sake of peace”.
The Home Ministry is not expected to withdraw its appeal against the Herald, the Catholic weekly, now in the Court of Appeal.
This is against the High Court ruling on Dec 31 that the term 'Allah' is not exclusive to Islam.