On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Let cool heads prevail

In highly contentious situations, it would be wiser to leave things as they are for the time being.

YOU can’t blame many Malaysians for being confused. The Court of Appeal has ruled that the use of the word “Allah” is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity and therefore could find no reason why the Catholic Church’s weekly publication, The Herald, is so adamant to use it.

In short, the word “Allah” should be exclusively used by Muslims and The Herald should not be using the name in its Bahasa Malaysia edition.

The three-member panel chaired by Justice Mohamed Apandi Ali unanimously ruled in favour of the Government’s appeal to set aside the 2009 decision of the High Court which had overturned the Home Ministry’s decision that the church cannot use the word in The Herald’s Malay language edition.

The Court of Appeal also ruled that its usage would cause confusion within the local Muslim community and cited Article 3(1) and Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution as grounds for its decision.

The court found that the Home Ministry’s prohibition on the usage of the word in The Herald did not infringe any constitutional rights.

But in less than 24 hours, senior Sarawak and Sabah leaders, including Muslims, quickly came out to clarify that the court ruling was just restricted to The Herald.

They assured the sizeable Christian bumiputra voters, who include many loyal Barisan Nasional supporters, that the court ruling did not apply to them in their daily prayers and devotions.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Depart­ment Nancy Shukri was reported as saying that “the Government has nothing to do with the outcome of that decision”.

Nancy, who is also the de facto law minister, said the decision against the use of the word “Allah” is confined only to The Herald.

Put simply, the court decision was not a blanket ruling against the usage of the word by non-Muslims.

A news portal also cited Deputy Home Minister Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar as having the same view.

It quoted him as saying that the Cabinet decision to allow the use of Allah in Bahasa Malaysia or native language Bibles in Sabah and Sarawak and the assurance given by Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud in 2011 still stand, thereby suggesting that the Government does not believe that the word is exclusive to Muslims.

Both Nancy and Wan Junaidi are from Sarawak, where Nancy is MP for Batang Sadong and the latter is MP for Santubong.

I am sure the two leaders know their constituents very well and that their statements reflected the sentiments in the state.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Joseph Kurup also weighed in, saying that “all political parties and leaders should engage the people in productive dialogues to ease tensions”.

The Sabahan leader said they should exercise maximum restraint by not engaging in a “holier-than-thou” contest.

“I urge all parties for the sake of national unity to be cautious with their statements, not to be provocative with their unwarranted statements and stop creating fear to the extent that certain communities begin to question the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution in our country,” he said in a statement last week.

If you read what Kurup has said, between the lines, it is obvious that he is concerned about the court decision.

But as Malaysians discuss this issue, it must be remembered that a huge section of Muslims share the sentiments that the word should be used only by Muslims.

I have spoken to many of my Muslim friends and colleagues, and they have shared their thoughts with me frankly. For that, I am thankful that we are still able to discuss even the most delicate issues rationally and calmly.

From their perspective, there is this genuine fear that the word “Allah” could be manipulated by over-zealous Christian evangelists, explaining that “the name Allah is still something basic and fundamental to Islam”.

Former National Fatwa Council chairman Datuk Dr Ismail Ibrahim reportedly said that “the name Allah, from a philosophical point, its definition and concept is not equal with the name Tuhan, God, Lord and so on in the usage of other religions”.

But the reality is that the court’s decision has been interpreted in so many ways now. If it’s merely restricted to The Herald, then no one should attempt to extend the court ruling to other sections.

The concerns of Christians, especially those who only speak and read Bahasa Malaysia, are equally genuine. They will continue to read the Bahasa Malaysia Bible or the Bahasa Indonesian Bible, which uses “Allah”, and for practical purposes, how can anyone stop such worshipping?

Likewise, it is downright confusing to tell Christians in Sabah and Sarawak that they can make reference to Allah in their states but not in peninsular Malaysia.

What then happens when our Sabahan and Sarawakian brethren come over the peninsula for work or travel?

There are many churches in the peninsula, including in Kuala Lumpur, that are attended by Sabahans, Sarawakians and Indonesians – with all the services in Bahasa Malaysia – and surely we cannot be telling them that they can’t pray according to their own ways.

The same predicament, I suppose, is also faced by the Sikhs, as the word “Allah” appears 37 times in the Sikh Holy Book. The Babas also use the word “Tuan Allah” in some churches in Malacca. The Christian orang asli in the peninsula, likewise, worship using the Bahasa Malaysia Bible.

For the time being, it is best that we let cool heads and wisdom prevail. Often, it is wiser to just let things remain untouched and to let things be. A non-conclusive situation is sometimes, ironic as it may be, the best way out.