Southeast Asia’s Anglican Archbishop Bolly Lapok said non-Muslims need to 'hear and see more than just a display of ad hoc benevolence by the Malaysian government'.
KUCHING: A high-ranking church leader has urged non-Muslims and Christians in particular “not to be silent” and reminded the government that these communities want ‘a tangible commitment’ on the assurance of freedom of religion.
Archbishop of Southeast Asia’s Anglican Church, Bolly Lapok, said the ‘Allah’ controversy was about unfair government laws and policies that contravened the right of non-Muslim Malaysians to observe their respective religion.
“We need hear and see more than just a display of ad hoc benevolence by the Malaysian government.
“We need a tangible commitment from the authorities to respect and uphold the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Federal Constitution which is the supreme law of the nation,” he said in a statement released here after a public forum involving theology, history of churches and the Malaysian constitution.
Lapok said the churches in Sarawak, under the Association of Churches of Sarawak (ACS), had made a three-point request for the government. Lapok is ACS chairman.
He said to prove their stronger commitment to religious freedom in Sabah and Sarawak, the Malaysian government must recognize and confirm that the word ‘Allah’ is an integral part of the Christian prayer in the Malay language and used by native speaking churches in Sarawak and Sabah.
The churches, he said, also expected the federal government to respect, honour and abide by the guarantee of religious freedom as enshrined in the Federal Constitution and which was agreed to when Sarawak and Sabah joined Malaya in 1963 to form the Malaysia.
He also requested the federal government to honour the 10-point Agreement by the federal Cabinet in April 2011 on the printing, importation and distribution of the Al-Kitab in which the word ‘Allah’ appears.
He said 1.6 million Bumiputera Christians in Sabah and Sarawak worshiped in Bahasa Malaysia and in their own native tongues and the rights of these communities must be respected.
Christians in Sabah and Sarawak make-up two-thirds of the faith’s followers in Malaysia.
“Any attempt to forbid the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims would be most regrettable and wholly unacceptable as it is a flagrant disregard and betrayal of the Malaysia Agreements which guarantees the inalienable rights of non-Muslims in Sarawak and Sabah to complete religious freedom,” Lapok said.
Court ruling ‘makes no sense’
He also reiterated that the Bumiputera churches would carry on using the word ‘Allah’ as it was ‘fundamental to all aspects of their profession and practice of their Christian faith’.
“It is used in all aspects of Christian faith and practice by Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians and other natives including in services, prayers praise, liturgy, worship and religious education.
“As such, it is reasonable to expect that the word also be used in our Christian publications and multi-media resources,” he said.
Lapok, also noted it did not make any sense that only Christians in Sarawak and Sabah were being allowed to use the term Allah.
“Christians from Sarawak and Sabah move across the country from East to West to live and work and carry with them their Alkitab and other Christian materials in the Bahasa Malaysia language.
“Even non-natives from West Malaysia own and read the Alkitab as Bahasa Malaysia is our national language.
“It also makes no sense for the Court of Appeal’s recent judgment to be interpreted as being applicable only to The Herald.
“While The Herald may have been the case brought before the court, it is our view that the judges have overstepped their boundaries in determining that using the word ‘Allah’ was not “integral to the Christian” faith,” he added.
In deciding thus, he said, the judges have ‘arrogated to themselves a right that did not belong to any human court of law-the (which is) the right to determine religion.
“It is the fundamental right of every religion to determine its expression and practice of its own faith.
“The right of native Bumiputeras to profess and practice their faith in their own language is safeguarded by the Federal Constitution.
“When Sarawak and Sabah agreed to join in the formation of Malaysia in 1963, they did so as sovereign states and with conditions attached; these being known as the Sarawak 18-point and Sabah-20-point Agreements a kind of covenant to which Malaya was a party,” said Lapok.
Don’t allow bigotry
He said it was not a coincidence that freedom of religion was the first point in both these agreements.
“Sarawak and Sabah consented to form Malaysia with Islam as the Federation religion, on the express condition that there would be absolute freedom of religion without obstacle placed on other religions.
“According to these agreements, Sarawak and Sabah were not to have any official religion.
“We thus view with grave concern the Court of Appeal judgment on The Herald which has re-interpreted Article 3 of the Federal Constitution to mean that non-Muslim religions may only be practiced in peace and harmony subject to Islam.
“We do not believe this was ever the original meaning of Article 3, which simply states that other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation,” Lapok said.
He also advocated that the “‘religious bigotry, racism and extremism should not be allowed to show its ugly head.”
“Non-Muslims, Christians especially, cannot and should not remain silent,” he said.
The Malaysian Catholic weekly publication, The Herald, was prohibited from using the word ‘Allah’, following a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya on Oct 14.