The 'Allah' judgement: 22 reasons why, and why NOW

Left: High Court judge Lau Bee Lan

In her writing the 31st December's High Court judgment allowing Catholic paper publication 'The Herald' to use the word 'Allah is its BM section, Justice Lau Bee Lan cited the following reasons behind her conclusion:

1. The word “Allah” is the correct Bahasa Malaysia word for “God” and in the Bahasa Malaysia translation of the Bible, “God” is translated as “Allah” and “Lord” is translated as “Tuhan”;

2. For 15 centuries, Christians and Muslims in Arabic-speaking countries have been using the word “Allah” in reference to the One God. The Catholic Church in Malaysia and Indonesia and the greater majority of other Christian denominations hold that “Allah” is the legitimate word for “God” in Bahasa Malaysia;

3. The Malay language has been the lingua franca of many Catholic believers for several centuries especially those living in Melaka and Penang and their descendants in Peninsular Malaysia have practised a culture of speaking and praying in the Malay language;

4. The word “God” has been translated as “Allah” in the “Istilah Agama Kristian Bahasa Inggeris ke Bahasa Malaysia” first published by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia in 1989;

5. The Malay-Latin dictionary published in 1631 had translated “Deus” (the Latin word for God) as “Alla” as the Malay translation;

6. The Christian usage of the word “Allah” predates Islam being the name of God in the old Arabic Bible as well as in the modern Arabic Bible used by Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and other places in Asia, Africa, etc;

7. In Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, the word “Allah” has been used continuously in the printed edition of the Matthew’s Gospel in Malaysia in 1629, in the first complete Malay Bible in 1733 and in the second complete Malay Bible in 1879 until today in the Perjanjian Baru and the Alkitab;

8. Munshi Abdullah who is considered the father of modern Malay literature had translated the Gospels into Malay in 1852 and he translated the word “God” as “Allah”;

9. There was already a Bible translated into Bahasa Melayu in existence before 1957 which translation was carried out by the British and Foreign Bible Society where the word “Allah” was used;

10. There was also already in existence a Prayer Book published in Singapore on 3.1.1905 where the word “Allah” was used;

11. There was also a publication entitled “An Abridgment of the Christian Doctrine” published in 1895 where the word “Allah” was used.

12. Anther publication entitled “Hikajat Elkaniset” published in 1874 also contains the word “Allah”

13. The Bahasa Indonesia and the Bahasa Malaysia translations of the Holy Bible, which is the Holy Scriptures of Christians, have been used by the Christian natives of Peninsular Malaysia; Sabah and Sarawak for generations;

14. The Bahasa Malaysia speaking Christian natives of Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah had always and have continuously the word “Allah” for generations and the word “Allah” is used in the Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesian translations of the Bible used throught Malaysia;

15. At least for the last three decades the Bahasa Malaysia congregation of the Catholic Church have been freely using the Alkitab, the Bahasa Indonesia translation of the Holy Bible wherein the word “Allah appears;

16. The said publication is a Catholic weekly as stated on the cover of the weekly and is intended for the dissemination of news and information on the Catholic Church in Malaysia and elsewhere and is not for sale or distribution outside the Church;

17. The said publication is not made available to members of the public and in particular to persons professing the religion of Islam;

18. The said publication contains nothing which is likely to cause public alarm and/or which touches on the sensitivities of the religion of Islam and in the fourteen years of the said publication there has never been any untoward incident arising from the Applicant’s use of the word “Allah” in the said publication;

19. In any event the word “Allah” has been used by Christians in all countries where the Arabic language is used as well as in Indonesian/Malay language without any problems and/or breach of public order/ and/or sensitivity to persons professing the religion of Islam in these countries;

20. Islam and the control and restriction of religious doctrine or belief among Muslims professing the religion of Islam is a state matter and the Federal Government has no jurisdiction over such matters of Islam save in the federal territories

21. The subsequent exemption vide P.U.(A) 134/82 which permits the Alkitab to be used by Christians in churches ipso facto permits the use of the word “Allah” in the said publication;

22. The Bahasa Malaysia speaking congregation of the Catholic Church uses the word “Allah” for worship and instruction and that the same is permitted in the Al-Kitab.

You can get a lengthier report here.

But why only now...?

Interestingly, this goes back to the Mahathir years, right here. Anyway, I'm publishing excerpts from another source, to retain info for my own personal reference in case the link above is lost. I will always remember the 'Allah' case well- because it was one (amongst a few more) of the reasons I started social-political blogging. Back in January 2008, I read through online news the Cabinet had re instituted the cancellation of The Herald's publishing license for using the word 'Allah' in its Malay section. I had thought this was unconstitutional... and what an abusive government.

PMs assured Christians of use of "Allah"       
Thursday, 14 January 2010 08:02am
The Nut Graph
By Ding Jo-Ann

PETALING JAYA, 13 Jan 2010: Even though the government banned the use of "Allah" by non-Muslims in 1986, the churches refrained from court action for more than 20 years because of assurances from two prime ministers.

Council of Churches of Malaysia general secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri told The Nut Graph that Christian leaders were assured that "Allah" could be used, as long as it was limited to within the Christian community. This was in spite of a 1986 government gazette and 1988 state enactments that declared the words "Allah", "solat", "ka'abah" and "Baitullah" as exclusive to Islam.

"(Former Prime Minister Tun Dr) Mahathir (Mohamad's) position was if Christians use the word 'Allah' among ourselves, sell our bibles in Christian bookshops, and indicate it's a Christian publication, then that was fine," said Shastri.

"Mahathir and [Tun Abdullah Ahmad] Badawi both assured the Christian community that it would not be an issue [using 'Allah'] within our community."

Shastri said although they did not agree with the government gazette and state enactments, the church refrained from legal action in the interest of national harmony because Mahathir had said the issue was sensitive.

Shastri stressed that Christians did not use "Allah" to slight Muslims. Rather, "it's part and parcel of our spiritual and devotional life," he said.

Issue not new

Shastri also said it was unfair to describe the issue of Christians using "Allah" as new, as some have claimed.

He explained that Christians have been encountering intermittent problems for the past two decades, such as Bahasa Indonesia bibles being held at customs, or the occasional compact disc being confiscated.

The items however, were usually released on a case-by-case basis after the prime minister's intervention, he said.

Shastri said this understanding with the government broke down when Catholic paper Herald was banned from using "Allah" by the Home Ministry in their Bahasa Malaysia publication in 2007.

"The Herald had no other choice. The only way open was to take the matter to court," he said.

Challenging the state

Andrew Khoo, lawyer and legal adviser to the Anglican Bishop of West Malaysia, said the 1986 gazette should have been challenged when it was first issued.

But Khoo noted that it was usual for such issues to have been discussed privately and resolved quietly, which could also explain the delay in legal action being taken.

"Perhaps we were satisfied with the then prime minister's assurances," Khoo said.

Khoo added that in 1988, there was no desire to confront the issue by suing the government in court.

This reluctance was in the wake of Operasi Lalang in 1987, where more than 100 people from civil society, including church members, and opposition leaders were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act. The crackdown was followed by the removal of Lord President Tun Salleh Abas in 1988.

With regard to the 1988 state enactments on the use of "Allah", Khoo said no one had been prosecuted thus far.

"The enactments can't be challenged unless there's a prosecution," Khoo said.

He noted that the preamble of the Selangor enactment states that the law intended to "control and restrict the propagation of non-Islamic religious doctrines and beliefs among persons professing the religion of Islam."

"Although the section [on the use of 'Allah'] is very wide, the preamble sets the context," said Khoo, adding that the imposed condition, while not ideal, was workable.

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