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Cabinet decision banning the use of “Allah” for non-Muslims should be put on hold until full and extensive consultation of all religious leaders and faiths on the subject

Media Statement (2)         
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Parliament, Friday): The euphoria that good sense and sanity have finally prevailed among those in government whose decisions could adversely impact on inter-religious and inter-racial relations as to aggravate religious polarization in a plural society like Malaysia lasted just four days.

On New Year’s eve on Monday, 31st December 2007, Malaysians thought they saw a silver lining after a whole year of gloomy “annus horibilis” when they learnt that Herald, the Catholic weekly, had been allowed to continue printing its Bahasa Malaysia section with no restrictions on the use of the word Allah for God.

A happy editor of the 13-year-old Herald, Father Lawrence Andrew, said that a representative from the Internal Security Ministry delivered a letter containing the permit to print the paper, dated Dec. 28, by hand at 10 am on a Sunday (Dec. 30) – which was a great and commendable gesture of goodwill.

The letter placed no restrictions whatsoever and included the permit for all the languages, including the Bahasa Malaysia segment, causing Father Lawrence to give effusive thanks to the government and the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Tan Sri Bernard Dompok for his assistance.

Bernard described the Herald permit as “good news” and “a wonderful Christmas present” by the government to the Christian community.

This morning, the euphoria that good sense and sanity have finally prevailed among the decision-makers in government on why it is imperative to promote inter-religious goodwill and harmony evaporated after Kist four days when Malaysians woke up to read headlines like “Herald can’t use ‘Allah’ in its publications” (Star) and “Cabinet: ‘Allah’ for Muslims only” (The Sun).

In a statement by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Abdullah Mohd Zin said the Cabinet has decided that restrictions on the use of the world “Allah” still stand and Catholic weekly Herald therefore cannot use it although its printing licence has just been renewed.

Abdullah said the apart from Allah, the use of the words Solat, Kaabah and Baitullah was also prohibited in the publications of religions other than Islam as per the decision of the cabinet on July 30, 2002, which has been enforced since Dec. 5, 1986.

This is a half step backward followed by quick one step forward.

What is the use of appointing Bernard Dompok as the Minister in charge of Christian affairs if the legitimate hopes and concerns of the Christian community are not accorded the weight and respect they deserve – just as what is the use of a Christmas present which has only a four-day lifespan for its “wonder” effects?

However, it is not only the Christian community who are adversely affected by the ban of the use of the word “Allah” as it also affects the Sikh community who use the words Allah and Rahim extensively to refer to God, as well the Arabic terms “iman” and “ibadat” for faith and worship.

In claiming that the Cabinet has decided that restrictions on the use of the word “Allah” still stand, reaffirming the Cabinet decisions of July 30, 2002 and Dec. 5, 1986, I call on Abdullah to state:

1. When was the last Cabinet decision on the matter and who were the Cabinet Ministers who attended and voted for it; and why the non-Muslim Cabinet Ministers did not object?

2. Who were the Ministers who took part in the Cabinet decision on July 30, 2002 to ban the use of “Allah” for non-Islamic religions; and non-Muslim Cabinet Ministers who supported this decision at the time should step forward to explain their action.

3. Who were the Ministers who took part in the original Cabinet decision of Dec. 5, 1986 and whether there was full, informed and intelligent discussion of the subject before the decision was taken; and

4. Whether all the non-Islamic Cabinet Ministers at each of these Cabinet meetings had been given an opportunity to consult the non-Islamic religions so that the Cabinet decision is the result of the considered views and representations from all religious faiths, and not just of a handful of people from one religion?

If the Cabinet had failed to seek the widest consultation before reaching a decision which tantamount to the unconstitutional deprivation of the right to religious freedom guaranteed to all Malaysians, the Cabinet should put on hold its decision to ban the use of the word “Allah” for non-Islamic religions and commission a full and extensive consultation process on the issue involving all religious leaders and faiths in the country.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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