By Debra Chong - The Malaysian Insider
KUALA LUMPUR, March 17 — Talks between the federal government and the Catholic Church over the “Allah” issue have reached a stalemate, with both parties not backing down on their respective stands.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers have now gone ahead to file a formal appeal against the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruling which allows the Catholic Church to use the word “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia edition of its Herald newspaper.
Representatives from the AG’s office, Cabinet Ministers Idris Jala and Koh Tsu Koon, have been engaging in regular talks with Father Lawrence Andrew, the priest-editor of Herald and lawyers from the Catholic Church.
The Malaysian Insider understands that the AG has been trying to convince the Catholic Church to drop its claims to be allowed to use the word “Allah.”
Church officials have refused to do so, citing the fact that it had won the original High Court ruling, which has since been suspended pending appeal.
It is understood that the Church is willing to abide all future court rulings even if they were to lose.
The government is keen on finding a compromise solution to the dispute because of the racial and religious tensions the dispute has sparked.
Earlier this year, several churches, mosques and a Sikh gurdwara were hit by a series of attacks that followed close on the heels of a High Court ruling upholding the Herald’s constitutional right to use the word “Allah” to refer to God in a non-Muslim context.
According to sources, certain Muslim groups are lobbying the government to pressure the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur to withdraw the church’s case despite the fact that the ball is now in the government’s court.
The next step is for the Court of Appeal to set a suitable date to hear the case, said counsel for the Church, S. Selvarajah, but the AG, who has the power to push the legal suit along, has delayed doing so.
The court registry may also step in to set a date.
But Lawrence, who is also in charge of the St. Anne’s Church in Port Klang, is worried that the longer the case drags out, the greater the risk the dispute will spiral out of control and truly become the threat to national security as the government claims.
“The recent controversy of Biro Tata Negara (BTN) is indeed a case in point. Are we training our young to respect people of other faiths?” the Catholic cleric questioned in the Herald’s latest issue out last Sunday.
He noted reports from students who were obliged to attend the controversial courses over the high-handed way some lecturers taught certain subjects, including on Islamic civilisation, where they mocked other religions.
“Such pedagogical methods of ridicule have hurt the feelings of Christians and created unnecessary polarization and tension.”