A church leader in Sarawak has sought to play down the religious overtones in a recent court ruling allowing Christians in the country to use the word “Allah”, saying the judgment should not be seen as a victory of one group over another, even as the federal government mounts a challenge to the decision at the appellate court.
“It is certainly not a victory for Christians over Muslims,” Danald Jute, the bishop of the Anglican church in Sarawak and Brunei, told MalaysiaNow.
“It is a fair and just judgment whereby the judge said that it cannot be disputed that the Christian community of Sabah and Sarawak have, for generations, been using the word ‘Allah’ in the practice of their religion.”
The ruling by the Kuala Lumpur High Court on March 10 stated that Christians could use “Allah” along with three other Arabic words – “Baitullah”, “Kaabah” and “solat” – in their religious publications for educational purposes.
Court of Appeal judge Nor Bee Ariffin, sitting as a High Court judge, allowed a judicial review application by Sarawak native Christian, Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, whose legal battle on the matter began 13 years ago.
Nor Bee in her ruling held that the 1986 directive by the home ministry barring the use of the four words was filled with illegality and irrationality.
She also said that the words could be used by the Christian community for teaching purposes as they had been in use for more than 400 years.
“The use of the words would not disrupt public order,” she said.
‘Not an issue’
In Sarawak itself, Christians’ use of the word “Allah” was never much of an issue to begin with.
Many within the community – the largest in the state – have always used the Malay language in church and for worship.
Dayang Khamsiah Awang Omar, a Melanau from the coastal town of Oya, said use of the word “Allah” as the name of God within the Christian community had been passed down for generations.
In fact, anyone in Sarawak is free to call their God by the name of “Allah”, she said.
“For the Melanaus, the use of ‘Allah’ is not exclusively for a particular religion,” she told MalaysiaNow.
“My Chinese friends also call their God ‘Tuhan Allah’. After all, it’s between you and God,” she added.
She said even names like “bin” and “binti” do not necessarily identify them as Muslims as Melanau Christians also use these names.
Putrajaya nonetheless lodged an appeal on March 15, saying it was “not satisfied” with the ruling.
“The appellants are appealing to the Court of Appeal against the whole of the ruling,” the notice of appeal said.
PAS and Umno had also called for the ruling to be referred to the appeals court, saying they view seriously the High Court’s decision to allow non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” in their publications.
Danald said the “Allah” issue should not be politicised.
He said the High Court ruling was “a victory for common sense”, where everyone should learn to accept and respect the backgrounds of others.
“The decision was an unbiased opinion based on law,” he added. “This is a victory for common sense which should be accepted and respected by everyone, irrespective of background, for a better Malaysia.
“We must not let divisive acts and language tear us apart as a nation. If we do not respect the court’s decision, our country will be destroyed.”