Saturday, January 16, 2010

Govt okays ‘Allah’ for East Malaysian Christians

By Adib Zalkapli

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 15 – The government today said that it allows the use of the word “Allah” by East Malaysian Christians when referring to God in the Malay language.

The apparent concession is seen as a damage control move as Christians in the states of Sabah and Sarawak primarily conduct church services in the Malay language.

In an interview with a Kuching-based daily, The Borneo Post, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz (picture) said the word has been used traditionally in the two states and that the local Muslims are used to the practice.

The daily is circulated widely in the two Christian-majority states.

“Christians in Sarawak and Sabah need not worry over this issue because it is a common tradition there. I have been to an Iban church service and I heard the word “Allah” used there,” he reportedly said.

The “Allah” row started in 2007 after the Home Ministry invoked a 1986 Cabinet directive banning non-Muslims from using certain Arabic words when it refused to renew the publication permit of the Catholic tabloid, Herald.

The Catholic church later challenged the government’s decision and on Dec 31 last year, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that the Herald has the right to use the word “Allah” for its Malay edition.

Another legal battle over the word “Allah” is also expected, as a Sarawakian Christian, Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill had earlier this week challenged the seizure of religious compact discs containing the word “Allah”, which took place in 2008 at the Sepang airport’s low cost carrier terminal.

Nazri’s pledge, which was front-paged by The Borneo Post today, comes just about one year before Sarawak is scheduled to have its state election.

The current state assembly’s term expires in mid-2011.

“Muslims here in Semenanjung cannot accept it as ‘Allah’ was never used in Christian preaching until recently and they questioned the motive behind the substitution of ‘Tuhan’ for ‘Allah’,” said Nazri in justifying the ban in the Peninsula.

“It is clearly stated in our constitution that no other religions can be propagated to Malay Muslims and this article has been enacted in all the states in Malaysia where the Sultan is the Head of State … so this excludes Federal Territory, Penang, Malacca, Sarawak and Sabah,” he added.

The daily also quoted Nazri to have said that the series of attacks against the houses of worship has proven that the government was right in its decision to restrict the use of the word.

“Banning the use of ‘Allah’ by Christians was a pre-emptive move to stop outbreaks of religious violence in the nation,” he reportedly said.

Nazri also drew a parallel between the “Allah” dispute and the ‘cow head protest’ in Shah Alam last year, against the relocation of a temple in the Selangor capital.

“Take for example, there is no law in the country that states stepping on a severed cow head is wrong but when a group of Malays did that in their protests against the building of a Hindu temple we hauled them up and charged them because that act was disrespectful to the Hindus,” he reportedly said.

Sabahans are fed-up, no more compromises — Ronnie Klassen

JAN 15 — The Federal Government has failed miserably in addressing the Allah issue and more seriously the arson attacks on churches and recently a Sikh temple. Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has said the situation was under control and the attacks were isolated incidents. How stupid does Hishammuddin thinks Malaysians are, eight Churches and a Sikh Temple vandalised, and he blatantly says it’s only isolated cases and under control?

Barisan Nasional component parties should now re-examine their position and their coalition status with Umno. The Christian Community of Malaysia are currently under siege by unscrupulous arsonists out to create disunity among peace loving Malaysians.

Is Clarence Bongkos Malakun a Christian?

The President of the Council of Justices of the Peace, Datuk Clarence Bongkos Malakun has urged Christians in Sabah to make a compromise for the sake of national peace.

He is urging Christians to drop the word “Allah” in Malay-language services and Malay-language Bibles. He said that though this has been the practice for so long in Sabah, for the sake of peace, Sabahan Christians should abandon it, as this has caused anger to a certain section of extremist Muslims in Malaysia.

It is so easy to call for compromise. Sabahans have compromised for too long on many things since the state merged with Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore to form Malaysia. We had to compromise on language, education, natural resources etc. Finally we have someone who is asking us to compromise on the way our Christians practice the religion.

I question the intention of Clarence Bongkos Malakun. Perhaps he thought it was noble of him but then it seems only noble to him. A local daily reported Malakun as saying “many fellow Christians would disagree and perhaps start to condemn me” but “if we are really true Christians, we should be forgiving, reasonable and peace loving people”. It is my honest belief that through this very statement he has already condemned himself. But allow me to ask him, “Do you in the first place have the Christian credibility to ask Sabahans to drop the word Allah?”

Clarence Malakun should first examine himself as a Christian and whether he has breached the Catholic faith. Was his call in his personal capacity or a stooge of the Government or as a Christian? If his call was as a Catholic, then he has no local standi, having broken the most sacred sacrament of the Church. Marriage is a sacrament that is indissoluble. Once a marriage has been consummated, it endures until one spouse dies. The Church does not issue divorces or recognize divorces issued by other institutions.

My advice to Malakun is to do some soul searching and seek forgiveness from God, for you do not qualify to give any advice.

As a Justice of Peace, and more so as the head of the Council of JPs (MAJAPS), Datuk Clarence should seek Peace in the name of Justice or seek Justice in the name of Peace.

Failing this, he should hold his peace and not make things worse.

Sabahans’ tolerance has reached its limits.

Why should Sabahans be the one who have to compromise all the time? When was the last time the Federal Government made a compromise? We had to compromise on petroleum, allowing Petronas the glory of our oil and in return a miserable 5 per cent royalty.

We are now asked to compromise on religious freedom, even though the founding fathers of Malaysia guaranteed it for us. Where do we draw the line? The Muslim’s in Malaysia, particularly Sabah are not confused and have no qualms over the Christians using the word Allah. Our Muslim brothers and sisters have outgrown the hoodwinking of the government for too long. Umno just can’t come to terms on the gospel truth that they have lost the support of the Malays. Umno is in total denial of this fact.

There have been just too many compromises. The problem is that Sabahans have made the compromises, but the government keeps demanding for more and more. When will it ever stop? Today, Christians in Sabah might have to drop the usage of Allah because they burned churches. What about tomorrow? What if they demand Sabahan Christians stop displaying crucifixes outside churches? What if they demand that churches stop ringing bells? What if they demand more and more things which would altogether wipe out the Christian faith and identity?

Are we going to compromise and keep on compromising? —

* This article is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.

An Almighty headache — The Malaysian Insider

JAN 9 — When it comes to referring to the Almighty, what's in a name?

One kind of everything to some people, and another kind of everything to others.

Confused? That's what happens when everyone wants everything.

To both Muslims and Catholics, Allah or God means the supreme creator, basically the being behind the world's and humanity's existence — whether you believe or otherwise.

So why the big brouhaha among Muslims when it comes to Catholics using the name Allah to refer to their version of God?

To make some semblance of sense of it all, the clock needs to be turned back to some four decades from now, to the time and place where the name Allah was first used in Malaysia in the Kitab Injil, which is the Bible's translated name.

The situation first took place in Sabah and Sarawak (though the progression could differ between both states) some time in the 1970s when the demand grew for Catholic mass to be said in Bahasa Melayu (or Bahasa Malaysia, whichever suits your personal taste).

The demand was there because while English still figured strongly as a medium for communication at the time, having entered the union of Malaysia with Semenanjung Malaysia and Singapore meant conforming to the same education system.

Which meant Malay began to take precedence as the preferred form of communication.

This was especially so in the rural areas of the Land Below the Wind, and likewise for the Land of the Hornbills, and with a large population of Catholics speaking Malay it only made sense to say mass in Malay.

The situation created a standoff between the Catholic Church and the authorities of the day, who for whatever reason could not agree to allowing the church to translate the Bible into Malay.

What actually transpired is not clear, though armchair historians claim that this lead to underground tactics by the church to reach the masses and alleged arrests of clergy and their supporters by the authorities in response.

What is clear is that eventually after some years of subdued bickering, both sides came to a compromise — the church agreed at the time not to translate the Bible, and the authorities allowed the Kitab Injil to be imported from neighbouring Indonesia.

Which in turn got Catholics started on using the name Allah, since the Indonesian Kitab Injil used the name quite a fair bit in its translated form.

Bearing in mind the compromise, it not only meant the top guns came to a consensus, it brought an equal acceptance from both Muslims and Catholics that Allah is a favourable term for their respective versions of God.

It also helped that Catholics, and Christians in general, took up the larger piece of the religious pie in both states at the time.

The use of the name Allah by Catholics is widely accepted in Sabah and Sarawak simply because it was part of a very practical need for them to practise their faith in a common language that all devotees could understand.

On top of that, the local lingo in both Sabah and Sarawak is peppered with terms that traditionally only Malays and Muslims would use in Semenanjung Malaysia.

A fine example — give a piece of shocking news to any Sabahan or Sarawakian, regardless of race and creed, and it would not be surprising to hear them exclaim "Astaga!", short for astaga-firul-azim.

So everybody figured it's not such a big deal for everyone to use the name Allah to talk to God. It is after all a name for the Almighty.

Conversely, the history of the Catholic Church in Semenanjung Malaysia using Malay as a medium to say mass did not develop in the same way it did in Sabah and Sarawak.

The church itself would be the best reference to determine the exact period Malay masses started picking up in Semenanjung Malaysia, but what is sure is that it was to fulfil a demand from — you guessed it — Sabahans and Sarawakians.

With tons of job and study opportunities, the population of youths from both states grew exponentially in the Klang Valley and other development hubs in the peninsula, and being so used to having mass said in Malay, they requested for it and the church obliged.

But the situation differs in that while Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak rank as a large minority, the Catholics form a small minority in Semenanjung Malaysia.

And with that distinct difference in societal make-up comes a different set of challenges.

Islam had established itself as the religion of choice in the 12 states of Semananjung Malaysia since the time of the Malaccan empire in the 1300s, giving it far more precedence than Catholicism and Christianity on a whole.

And that's a lot longer than the time either religion had reached the shores of Sabah and Sarawak.

So understandably, the generations of Muslims in Semenanjung Malaysia would have a very personal attachment to the name Allah as possibly the most widely used out of the Almighty's 99 names listed in the Quran.

That very fact puts the whole uproar over the use of Allah's name by the Catholic Church in Semenanjung Malaysia into perspective.

It's perceived as one religion disregarding the centuries-old, god-given right of another religion to exclusively call their God by a specific name.

But to simply pass a blanket ruling, say for example, to ban the use of Allah by Catholics, across the eastern and western divides of Malaysia would be naive at best.

In history, in culture, even in ethnic make-up, Malaysians in the East and West are so different that unless it is the leaders of both religions who decree, any single decision would only serve to perpetuate ignorance and distrust among the faithful.

In matters of spirituality, it should never be left to the courts or the mob to decide what the next step should be.

As there are many straight-thinking individuals, very few can truly claim to be theologians or ulamas.

This is where the full brunt of responsibility falls on the religious leaders. It is these very religious leaders who are responsible for this mess.

So naturally, it should be left to them to work it out.

The Lundayeh, Lunbawang and Allah — Amde Sidik

JAN 9 — Let me share my experience about a group of people who are not permitted to use word “Allah” in their prayer book.

Until a few days ago it has been a yo-yo kind of decision by the Home Minister with regard to the law on the issue. Now the law is back to square one, from allowing with condition to not allowing at all until the court decides otherwise.

I’m not arguing about the legality of it since the case is pending judicial review, I’m merely talking about the people, who I have known for a long time now.

The people that I’m talking about are the Lundayeh from Sabah, and the Lunbawang from Sarawak; the two are actually of the same ethnic community, but called by two different names in these two different regions. I won’t mention other ethnic communities here, who share the same predicament.

The Lundayeh aren’t permitted to use word Allah in their prayer book because they are Christian; if they are allowed to use word Allah it’s going to confuse the Muslims. That’s the reason given by the then-Home Minister Datuk Syed Hamid Albar.

The Lundayeh are followers of Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB), a relatively new Christian group in Sabah and Sarawak started by the Evangelical Mission. It was earlier called the Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM).

Hudson Southwell pioneered the mission with two friends from Melbourne, Australia who landed in Kuching from Singapore in 1928. He met Rajah Brooke, the Sarawak Rajah, and in that same year he was given permission to establish this mission.

By the 1960s Bahasa Malaysia was not only the official language of Malaysia, but also the only language widely spoken throughout Borneo Island, thus in the mid-1960s, BEM changed its name to Sidang Injil Borneo, or SIB.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s, the religion quickly spread throughout the Brunei Bay region (southwest Borneo) and it found its way into Sipitang district, Lawas and Limbang in Sarawak.

To make the work easier, which is only logical, the Lundayeh preachers concentrated in converting their own ethnic group first before heading elsewhere, for example, to the interior of Sabah, to Kota Marudu and Kudat.

When I was a child I used to hear my Lundayeh relatives joke of how unsure they were about their newly adopted religion, because prior to the 1920s most Borneo people who lived in the interior were animists, and the Lundayeh were in the same category not until the late 1950s.

My guess why they hang on to this religion is, first, there is a need for religion, and second, may be in view of the silence in our Federal Constitution as to the fate of those who wish to practice no religion compelled them to have one.

SIB preachers trained in various places in Sarawak; they also have training institutions in Kalimantan, Indonesia.

On graduation preachers are called gembala; linguistically they are very fluent in Bahasa Indonesia. Thus in their holy book the terms their used are very similar to the Malay Muslim way of saying, like, dosa, syurga, neraka, roh, kiamat, and so on.

During my school days especially living in boarding school in the 1970s, many of my Lundayeh schoolmates, who were also my relatives and cousins, used to hide their prayer books (they also called it Bible) under their pillows or elsewhere in the cupboard. I used to sneak a look at the pages and it wasn’t difficult to read because it was all written in Bahasa Indonesia, when compared with the Quran, which is all in Arabic.

In that Bible, it mentions the word Allah in numerous accounts. And very many other similar terms used like, for instance, the opening remark, “Dengan nama Allah yang pengasih dan penyayang” (In the name of God, the Gracious and the Merciful).

One of my Lundayeh relatives, a teacher, could write beautiful Jawi. He could even read and pronounced the ayats in the Quran easily, except, just like me, he had no inkling about their meaning.

We, of the same age group and the same background, except different religions, found no difficulty in adopting and understanding each other. Honestly no questions asked, consciously or unconsciously. We would ask funny questions, like, what would happen when we die, will we meet somewhere, after all we are relatives, and we shared our thoughts about death because we all knew there was hell waiting for the unrepented.

The Kadayan likewise have always been close neighbours with the Lundayeh, so too the Murut Tagal, Kelabit in Sarawak, and Brunai (the Malays of Brunei); at one time, everyone except the Brunai were called Orang Darat — people of the interior.

My grandfather is Lundayeh adopted by a Kadayan family, he became a Muslim; he married my grandmother, a Kadayan from Sarawak. See how close I we are!

I say this just in case someone doubts how much I know about the two ethnic communities.

In Sipitang district, the Lundayeh intermingled with the Kadayan and Brunai ever since time immemorial, and lots of intermarriages have taken place over the centuries.

One can hardly recognise them based on appearance and complexion, whether one is Muslim or not, even the names sound very much Muslim, Yusuf, Aini, Musa and so on.

But the modern names for Lundayeh very much sound Western, such as George, Hendricks, John and so on, but their last names can be classical, like Labo, Balang, Singa, Agong, Selutan, Pengiran, and so on. My younger brother, a few of my first cousins and I too have our own Lundayeh name but I would rather keep it secret for now.

Not long ago if one went to Lawas, Sarawak, one would find my Lunbawang relatives wearing songkok; those who are not familiar with the place thought they were Muslims but they were not.

But my question really, why is it as time goes by religion becomes a sticking point to our harmony in this country? Political leaders are so bogged down about it when 50 years ago it was non-issue. I’m very doubtful as to the ability of our leaders on both sides of the South China Sea can manage our multiracial country.

Now, the obvious, all matters pertaining to religion, race, immorality and integration issues are started in the peninsula. The issues are blown out of proportion; in one day things can turn upside down because some mad politicians have no better thing to do than create havoc and pollute people’s mind.

Our political leaders are squabbling over issues which I consider time and energy wasting when they should be resolving the country’s economic problems — unemployment, rising cost of consumer goods, bad roads, toll hike, illegal immigrants in Sabah, so on and so forth.

There is an urgent need to change the dilapidated brains if our country is to survive for another 50 years. And we are not only talking about improvement but an extra ordinary leapfrog achievement, otherwise we are neither here no there. — mysinchew

"Christians won't stop using Allah"

14 Jan 10 : 8.00AM
By Ding Jo-Ann
dingjoann@thenutgraph.comdingjoann at thenutgraph dot com
THE attacks on Malaysian churches were a shocking way to start 2010. The unprecedented violence made headlines internationally as the foreign media pulled apart Malaysia's carefully constructed image as a moderate Muslim nation. Following the attacks, there have been calls for Christians to drop their claim to refer to God as "Allah" for the sake of national harmony.

Metro Tabernacle Church in Kuala Lumpur was attacked on 8 Jan 2010 (Pic courtesy of Sivin Kit)

But should Christians back down on calling God "Allah" when they have been using "Allah" for centuries? How do Christians feel in the wake of the attacks? How should they respond?
Council of Churches of Malaysia Youth Moderator and executive council member Chrisanne Chin and Bangsar Lutheran Church pastor Rev Sivin Kit shared their views with The Nut Graph on 11 Jan 2010 in Petaling Jaya. Kit is also co-initiator of Christian advocacy website The Micah Mandate.
TNG: Why do Christians have to use "Allah" to refer to God in Bahasa Malaysia? Why can't it be substituted with "Tuhan"?
Sivin Kit: It's historically evident that Malaysian Christians have been using "Allah" to refer to God in our Bible translations and publications since before Independence. From the perspective of Bible translation, it is consistent with translation methodology and principles for "Allah" to be translated as God in Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia. For Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians, referring to God as "Allah" is part and parcel of the fabric of their faith life.
What is your response to the suggestion that "Allah" be used by Christians only in Sabah and Sarawak, but not in Peninsular Malaysia?
Chrisanne Chin: That's not viable. East Malaysians come to Peninsular Malaysia to study and work. They ask for Bahasa Malaysia church services because that's the language they're comfortable with. They also use their Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia bibles which translate God as "Allah".

Kit (Courtesy of Sivin Kit and Ong Eng Jee)
Kit: Once we go down that path, it will raise the question of what 1Malaysia really means. Christians in Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia referring to God in different ways creates an awkward situation. It does not solve the problem. In fact, it would create even more confusion.
In the light of the attacks on churches, do you think Christians should compromise on using "Allah"?
Chin: I don't think churches are intimidated, I don't think they're going to stop using "Allah". It's just part of language. Ibans call God "Allah Taala", it's part of the Iban language. You can't say it's Indonesian. It's not. How can you tell an indigenous Malaysian not to use his [or her] own language? It's a little bit ridiculous.
Kit: I think that the Christian community, and specifically the Catholic Church, is under a lot of pressure to back down. If the attacks are indeed linked, and if Christians stopped using "Allah" because of them, we would be legitimising these attacks. We would be saying this method is the right way to resolve problems. This would be sending the wrong signal. The threat of violence is not the way to pressure any particular group. We need to rise above this and intensify our efforts to sit down together and work towards a solution.
How would you advise Christians to respond to these attacks?
Chin: No need to panic, don't be intimidated ... We need to pursue what's right. If we talk about justice, mercy and righteousness — this is the path we have to take. This opens a path to dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Christians have to rise above violence and show leadership on how to pursue this issue.
Kit: For Christians, this is an opportunity to draw spiritual resources from their faith traditions. That will help us to be firm and yet gentle in our engagement, even with those who disagree with us. This is a very important opportunity for us to really engage at a deeper level, of really respecting and understanding where each of us is coming from.

Syed Hamid Albar
What would you like or expect from the government?
Chin: Go back to the status quo [when Christians used "Allah" freely]. We didn't start this. It was (then Home Minister Tan Sri) Syed Hamid Albar who made that ruling in 2007 to give Herald a tough time, which has [escalated] to what it is now. He also flip-flopped on the issue.
We need good, strong leadership from the government. Be firm, don't politicise "Allah" for the sake of Umno. Set up an interfaith commission. Allow scholars, mufti, pastors and priests to talk. It will be a good way to help educate people about how to think through and solve problems.
Kit: The government must go beyond superficial band-aid approaches. I would expect the prime minister to immediately meet church leaders and also other [religious] leaders. I also expect the government to initiate dialogues where the facts of this matter can be presented to those who have strong opinions against it.
There have been groups that were involved in the [8 Jan 2010] protests that say they want to help to protect churches. We would prefer that zeal to be transferred towards coming and sitting down at the same table to talk about this. So that they hear from us directly and understand our point of view, and not depend on misinformation from Utusan Malaysia, for example.
A private interfaith dialogue has been mooted by the government to resolve the issue. Will that work?
Kit: The problem with closed-door dialogues is it gives people a sense of secrecy and lack of transparency in the discussions. There's a hunger for more openness. This would also be an opportunity to be bipartisan. The dialogue should include key non-governmental organisations (NGO) and Pakatan Rakyat leaders. This is a chance for the government to show leadership that goes beyond personal politics.
We should have an open and public dialogue for awareness and education where the official representatives of faith communities can state their positions.

Chin: If they are genuine about interfaith dialogue, it shouldn't end with just dialogue. There should be an interfaith commission or council. Make it open, clarify the purpose and objectives and what they're trying to establish. There shouldn't just be talk to placate people, and that's it.
Kit: People may actually be more worried about conversion rather than the use of "Allah" by non-Muslims. There have been comments, for example, on the intent and the motivation to maintain the use of "Allah" among Christians. If this is the case, we need to be able to discuss the conversion issue, which is separate from the use of "Allah". This goes all ways, whether it's Muslims converting to Christianity or vice versa. If there is suspicion and unhappiness on the part of either party, we need to talk about it openly and work towards some form of relating to each other.
Are the attacks and the angry responses to the 31 Dec 2009 High Court decision an indication that the relationship between Muslims and Christians has deteriorated in Malaysia?
Chin: I don't think so. I don't think all Muslims share the same thinking. I think Muslims and Christians still love and respect each other and this has just been exploited by some groups to the country's detriment. We have to see ourselves first as Malaysians and work together. After 50 years of independence, it's about time Christians and Muslims get together to talk openly about what really bugs them.
Kit: On the surface, it may appear to be a setback. Unfortunately, many may not be aware of the good relations between Muslims and Christians and people of other faiths. There have been encouraging signs such as interfaith forums organised in universities and between different faith-based NGOs.
Many Muslims actually spoke out to reject and condemn the violence. Over 120 groups, including Muslim groups, signed a joint statement within 24 hours condemning the attacks. These incidents have shown a greater willingness to improve on our relationship. I do not want to deny that there are still certain quarters who may lack contact with each other. This is an important call to wake us up, and it applies to Muslims and Christians alike.

Johor church ninth hit

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — The St Elizabeth Catholic church in Kota Tinggi, Johor, was vandalised this morning, with red paint splashed on its walls. This makes it the ninth church hit by firebombs, arson attempts or vandalism in the past week.
Kota Tinggi OCPD, Osman Mohamamed Sebot said the attack was discovered by church authorities at about 8.30am this morning. A police report was subsequently lodged.
“The damage is minor. The paint was splattered at the front part of the church and also [on] partial parts of the entrance door,” Osman told The Malaysian Insider.
“We will step up security measures and increase patrolling time around the area to try and prevent similar incidents from recurring,” he said. Osman stressed that the police would launch a thorough investigation.
He also urged members of the public with relevant information to come forward and assist the police in their investigation.
Osman said the police should not be blamed for the continuing attacks.
“We cannot say that, [as] the attack is done by a third party. But we will try our best to beef up security. We would also need cooperation from the church and other parties,” he said. Before today’s incident, eight Christian churches and a convent school in Selangor, Perak, Malacca, Negri Sembilan and Sarawak had been hit so far in the attacks following the Dec 31, 2009 High Court decision allowing the Catholic Church’s Herald to use the word “Allah.”
On Tuesday, a glass sliding door to the entrance of a Sikh Temple in Sentul here was found cracked from a barrage of stones, making it the first non-Christian house of worship hit since the controversial landmark “Allah” ruling.
The Sikhs also use the term to describe God in their Punjabi language and had unsuccessfully sought to be part of the Roman Catholic Church’s legal suit to use the name, a move that has sparked the anger of Muslims in Malaysia who claim it is exclusive to them.
So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the acts of violence and the authorities have urged the public not to speculate over the attacks.
The worst hit church so far has been the Metro Tabernacle church here, which had its ground floor gutted last week.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has said the situation was under control and the attacks were isolated incidents.
He also vowed to use the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention without trial, against those who stoke religious tension.
Yesterday, Deputy Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar revealed that police now have a lead on the “physical attributes” of the suspects in last Friday’s firebombing attack on the Metro Tabernacle Church in Taman Desa Melawati here.

Break-in at Herald lawyers’ office

Fernandez speaks to the press outside the law firm. — Pictures by Choo Choy May

By Debra Chong
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — The law firm of two lawyers acting for Catholic newspaper Herald was found to have been broken into early this morning.
The law firm of Fernandez and Selvarajah is located on Jalan Yong Shook Lin, Petaling Jaya, in a row of shop houses opposite the Civic Centre and about 10 minutes’ walk from the police district headquarters.
Lawyer Derek Fernandez was the first of the firm’s three partners to arrive at the crime scene at about 8.15am, when he alerted the police through his handphone.
“This is a staged robbery,” he told reporters while waiting for the police investigating officer (IO) in a handphone shop downstairs.
The firm occupies the second and third floors, above the handphone shop and a tuition centre. Only the main office on the second floor was ransacked. The perpetrators failed to break the padlock on the third-floor grille.
“It appears some documents are missing,” he said. But he said he was unsure which exactly, as he has not stepped inside the room yet.

Police look for clues outside the law firm.

Fernandez suspects it may be related to the “Allah” court case, which is being appealed by the Home Ministry. “The handphone shop downstairs was not touched. It was a very professional job,” the lawyer added.
A close-circuit television (CCTV) camera on the first floor, which was put in a few years ago to monitor the staircase was sprayed over with black paint.
A laptop belonging to the firm’s female partner was also taken.
“I think they believe my laptop contained information on the church case,” said the woman lawyer, who declined to give her name.
“It does but not the main part,” she disclosed when asked.
S. Selvarajah, who completes the partnership, told reporters the firm’s safe was also forced open and some documents which were kept there were also taken. He added that the firm did not keep any cash inside the safe.
This is not the first time the 13-year-old law firm has been burgled, Selvarajah said when asked.
The first time was some seven to eight years ago, he said, before grilles and padlocks were added to enhance security.
The firm set up at its current premises in 1996.
This morning’s break-in was first discovered by the firm’s receptionist, when she arrived at 7.55am.
Declining to be named, she told reporters she noticed a rag lying on the floor when she was opening the ground floor grille.
Selangor CID deputy chief ACP Khaw Kok Chin said police were on the case and would take down statements from six people who hold keys to the office.
“We will investigate all angles,” Khaw told reporters at the scene when asked if there may be a link to the court controversy.
Several churches in the country have been attacked in the past two weeks, including with petrol bombs, since the High Court ruled that the church had the right under the federal constitution to publish the word “Allah” in the Christian sense.
Islamic groups, however, claim the word is reserved for Muslim use.
The Home Minister has appealed the court decision.

Raja Nazrin minta umat Islam padam kontroversi sebelum merebak

IPOH, Jan 14 — Raja Muda Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah hari ini menyeru umat Islam supaya berusaha memadamkan segera perkara-perkara kontroversi di peringkat awal supaya tidak merebak hingga boleh mencetuskan konfrontasi.
“Perkara-perkara berunsur kontroversi tidak harus dipandang kecil malah hendaklah dipadamkan segera di peringkat awal dari dibiarkan merebak,” titah baginda ketika merasmikan persidangan ke-169 Majlis Agama Islam dan Adat Melayu Perak (MAIAMP) di sini hari ini.
Baginda bertitah bahawa sejarah membuktikan bahawa peperangan dan pertentangan bermula dari perkara-perkara kecil di mana perkara-perkara yang bersifat kontroversi sangat mudah menjemput reaksi yang akan menambah jurang salah faham malah berpotensi mencetuskan suasana konfrontasi.
“Sedarilah bahawa api yang besar lagi memusnahkan bermula dari bara-bara kecil yang gagal dipadamkan. Kembalikanlah minda untuk mencapai kejayaan sejati yang tidak menjejaskan keharmonian insan dan perpaduan warga dari sifat tidak mahu berganjak semata-mata untuk mempertahankan ego masing-masing yang akhirnya mengakibatkan kesemua pihak menanggung rugi,” titah Raja Nazrin.
Menurut baginda, Islam adalah agama perpaduan dan perpaduan adalah faktor yang sangat diutamakan.
Perpaduan merupakan elemen untuk menjamin hubungan antara insan dapat berlangsung secara harmoni dan ia akan dapat dicapai melalui sifat persefahaman dan saling menghormati, titah baginda.
Raja Nazrin bertitah bahawa perkara-perkara yang boleh meningkatkan persefahaman wajar disuburkan dan perkara-perkara yang boleh menimbulkan persengketaan hendaklah dielakkan.
Baginda juga mengarahkan MAIAMP membuat analisis lengkap tahap pencapaian tahun lalu dengan melakukan bedah siasat secara jujur untuk menerima hakikat kelemahan yang berlaku sepanjang 2009.
“Kesalahan dan kesilapan tidak harus cuba dilindungi kerana tindakan cuba menutup kesalahan dan kesilapan akan memberikan petanda salah yang akan menggalakkan berlakunya kesalahan dan kesilapan lebih besar,” titah baginda. —

Muhyiddin tidak akan benarkan isu kalimah ‘Allah’ berulang lagi

OXFORD, Jan 14 — Timbalan Perdana Menteri Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin berkata beliau tidak akan membenarkan isu penggunaan kalimah Allah oleh bukan Islam berulang lagi pada masa depan.
“KIta tidak akan membenarkan sesiapa untuk memainkan isu ini (pada masa depan),” katanya ketika menjawab soalan daripada hadirin selepas menyampaikan syarahan bertajuk “Islam dan Cabaran Kritikal di Malaysia yang mempunyai Pelbagai Agama” di Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OCFIS) di sini.
Kata beliau bekas perdana menteri Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad pernah menyebut bahawa proses perundangan bukan jalan penyelesaian terbaik bagi masalah itu dan mungkin ada cara lain.
“Saya setuju setakat peringkat tertentu, apa yang penting ialah untuk menangani keadaan. Beberapa perkara yang telah berlaku telahpun berlaku dan kita berharap ia tidak akan berulang lagi pada masa depan,” katanya.
Katanya beliau menerima sejumlah besar mesej daripada kawan bukan Islam di Sabah dan Sarawak yang menyatakan bahawa ada penganut Kristian yang berkata bahawa banyak pekara yang berlaku tidak akan berlaku pada awalnya “jika kita, penganut Kristian menyatakan tidak akan menggunakan kalimah Allah.”
Ini adalah kerana di Malaysia dan banyak tempat lain di dunia dan di semua negara Islam, Allah adalah satu-satu Tuhan bagi orang Islam, katanya sambil menambah kata bahawa “jadi kita tidak boleh samakannya kepada Tuhan dalam anutan lain ataupun dalam Kristian kerana mereka mempunyai konsep Triniti yang berbeza.”
“Ada banyak perbezaan, saya tidak mahu pergi lebih jauh di dalam isu ini. Saya fikir kita perlu menangani isu di tanah air dengan cara yang kita hadapi di tanah air kerana ada aspek-aspek tertentu dalam kehidupan, budaya, tradisi dan hormat menghormati antara satu sama lain dan kita gunakan itu kepada kekuatan kita.
“Saya fikir kita dapat menanganinya dan Insya-Allah perkara-perkara yang telah berlaku tidak akan berulang lagi,” kata Muhyiddin.

Ikim to host talk on non-Muslim use of‘Allah’

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — The Institute of Islamic Understanding, Malaysia (Ikim) will hold a muzakarah pakar or expert discussion on the disputed use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims and seek a solution to it on Jan 21.
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Mashitah Ibrahim said the closed-door discussion would be a most suitable platform to find an amicable solution to the issue compared to an open forum.
“So, I hope the relevant quarters will take this opportunity to deliberate and resolve the religious issue,” she said after presenting certificates and diplomas to 371 graduates at the 7th convocation ceremony of the Baitulmal Professional Institute (IPB), here, today.
Mashitah, however, said the public should also realise that the issue of the use of the word “Allah” by Catholic weekly Herald, would also have to be resolved in courts.
“The case started at the court, hence it will end at the court. We urge everyone to understand and realise this,” she said.
On the 12 resolutions by 70 Muslim non-governmental organisations which included calling on the Conference of Rulers to intervene in resolving the issue so as to protect the faith of Muslims and to preserve religious harmony, Mashitah said the NGOs’ initiative was for a concerted stand on the issue.
She said the planned muzakarah should also indicate to the other communities that the Muslims were sensitive over matters involving religion.
“This matter should be viewed seriously by the Herald. I hope the issue will be resolved amicably,” she said.
On another matter, Mashitah said the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council had increased allocation for IPB from RM8.5 million in 2008 to RM12 million in 2009 to increase the number of Muslim professionals. — Bernama

‘Allah’ feud won’t affect investment, says major fund manager

Onlookers gather as police inspect the damage on the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Petaling Jaya on Saturday. — Reuters pic

PETALING JAYA, Jan 14 — A report by Bloomberg quoting investment fund manager Templeton Asset Management says that the recent arson attacks on Christian churches won’t deter fund managers from putting money in the country. “We are quite positive about Malaysia, we just opened an office and we believe there are great opportunities going forward,” Templeton chairman Mark Mobius, who oversees US$33 billion (RM112 billion) in emerging markets funds, told Bloomberg yesterday. “The attacks are minor incidents that were taken care of by the leadership and don’t pose any big problem.”
The report also noted that the benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index is almost unchanged since the first incidents broke out on Jan 8, and is up 1.5 per cent for the year.
It also quoted Nicholas Zefferys, president of the American Chamber of Commerce Malaysia, however as saying that the attacks on non-Muslim religious places of worship will batter perceptions of the country and pose challenges in branding the country.
Malaysia is struggling to move up the economic value chain and the attacks have come at a difficult time for the country which is perceived to be lagging behind more dynamic regional economies such as Singapore and Indonesia in terms of investor interest.
In terms of the economic outlook for Malaysia, this year, the Bloomberg report quoted senior Asia economist at HSBC Holdings in Singapore, Robert Prior-Wandesforde, as forecasting 6.8 per cent growth this year.
“In terms of fundamentals, Malaysia is pretty well placed to do well because the regional and world trade cycles have turned,” Prior-Wandesforde said. “This will be a mirror image of 2008-2009 when one of the most open economies it suffered the most.”
Nine Christian churches and a convent school in Malaysia were hit by a string of attacks following a Dec 31, 2009 High Court decision allowing the Catholic Church’s Herald publication to use the word “Allah” which raised tensions among many Muslims. A Sikh temple was also attacked by a barrage of stones which cracked a glass door at its entrance.
The Sikhs also use the term to describe God in their Punjabi language and had unsuccessfully sought to be part of the Catholic Church’s legal suit to use the name.
The law firm of two lawyers acting for Catholic newspaper Herald was found to have been broken into early this morning.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has said the situation was under control and the attacks were isolated incidents.
Yesterday, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar revealed that police now have a lead on the “physical attributes” of the suspects in last Friday’s firebombing attack on the Metro Tabernacle Church in Kuala Lumpur.

Allah’ not only word banned

Umno Selangor members protest the ‘Allah’ ruling outside the Istana Kayangan in Shah Alam last week. — Picture by Jack Ooi

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — “Allah”, which is Arabic for God, is not the only word prohibited for use in a non-Muslim context.

In the case of the Catholic newspaper Herald, it is barred from using three other words: Kaabah (Islam’s holiest shrine in Mecca), Solat (prayer) and Baitullah (House of God).

Father Lawrence Andrew, the weekly paper’s editor, told The Straits Times yesterday that the four words were listed in the guidelines issued to the Herald in 2007. The Cabinet decided on the prohibited words in 1986.

The Herald does not use the three latter words, but ran into problems with the Home Ministry for using “Allah” to refer to the Christian God in its Malay-language publications.

Last month, the High Court set aside the government ban on the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims. The court decision outraged many Muslims and was followed by a series of arson attacks on churches.

The ban is not limited to those four words. Malaysian states have enactments listing more Arabic or Malay words as exclusive to Islam.

The New Straits Times yesterday published a list of 25 words that cannot be associated with any religion other than Islam in Pahang. The list is found in the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment 1989. Also banned are 10 expressions with Islamic origins, such as Subhanallah (Glory be to God) and Alhamdullilah (Praise to God).

Pahang’s Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council deputy president, Datuk Seri Wan Abdul Wahid Wan Hassan, said the law had been in force since 1990.

Syariah Lawyers Association deputy president Muhammad Burok told The Straits Times that all states have similar enactments, with their own lists of banned words.

“It’s not uniform, some have more words than others,” he said.

He pointed out that the enactments had been in force before the Herald controversy surfaced. The Herald’s problems began in 1998, four years after it started publication. It was told not to use the word “Allah”, but following an exchange of correspondence, there appeared to be a compromise by the government.

Father Lawrence said the newspaper had had no problem renewing its annual permit until 2006, when there was a delay. In 2007, it was told that the use of “Allah” and the other words was banned. — The Straits Times

Mature Malaysians stem further tension as ‘Allah’ feud rages

Angry protests shunned by the majority. — file pic

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — While the recent attacks against churches and the raging debate over the “Allah” issue have sparked fears about the fragility of religious and race relations in the country, there is a clear absence of the kind of tension that could potentially tear the country apart.

Most Malaysians appear to have confidence in the sanity of the majority and believe that the police will act decisively.

Khairul Azman Muslim, a 36-year-old civil servant, is one of the many Muslim Malaysians who are deeply affected by the ongoing debate over the “Allah” issue between the country’s Muslims and Christians.

Khairul is “profoundly” upset by the High Court ruling that allowed a Catholic weekly to use “Allah” in its national language edition.

“Memang la kita maghah (of course we are upset),” he said in a thick Kedahan accent. But his despair does not extend beyond words: “Tapi toksah dok buat kalut, ada cagha betui. Protes-protes ni tak baguih untuk ekonomi, kalu buat nanti, la ni, sapa yang susah? (But there is no need to make trouble. All these protests are not good for the economy. If we do all this, who will suffer?)”

Despite vigorous attempts by some from the far-right to fan the fire further, the likelihood of violent clashes remains slim. Political observers believe the easy access to accurate and reliable information has allowed Malaysians of all races to tackle sensitive issues maturely and pragmatically.

“Yes, Malaysians are more mature now compared to 20 years ago,” Ibrahim Sufian told The Malaysian Insider. Ibrahim is the director of Merdeka Center, an independent polling house.

“The current generation is a generation that has faced many challenges and they are also more exposed to information and with this, can think more pragmatically,” he added.

The space to express opinions such as through popular social networking websites like Facebook has “uncapped the pressure valve” and allowed the public to vent their anger through a “dialogue”-oriented channel.

Ibrahim also noted that since the 2008 general elections, the “political evolution” has developed so rapidly that Malaysians are somewhat “de-sensitised” and “would take a few steps back before getting excited over an issue.”

His views are shared by Khoo Kay Peng, an independent political analyst with a local think tank, who said that Malaysians now have more access to information.

“Information say, 20 years ago, was tightly controlled and the only source came from government-linked mainstream media,” he said, adding that this is one of the factors why Malaysians could be easily swayed by communal issues and politics of religion.

The calm demeanour and unthreatening language and gestures by politicians on both sides of the political divide are likely to have helped ensure the generally calm response from ordinary Malaysians.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was also quick to condemn the attacks on the Churches as “heinous”. Other leaders from the party who are known for their right wing views have also blasted the attacks.

Reconciliation and peace was also the order of the day with several Islamic NGOs, despite earlier protests against the “Allah” issue, quickly offering to guard the churches from attacks.

However, Khoo said the reconciliatory undertone of Najib’s and other Umno leaders’ language should not absolve the prime minister from his responsibility.

For Khoo, Najib should be held responsible for the attacks on the Churches.

“Yes the language has been calming and it did help defuse the tension a bit but Najib should have shown more leadership by not allowing the protests,” he said, suggesting the tacit backing of the demonstrations led to perception that Umno had fanned the flames which led to the attacks.

A total of 54 Islamic NGOs held nationwide protests outside mosques after Friday prayers last week.

Najib allowed the demonstrations to proceed amid fears it may have led to violent clashes on a larger scale.

No untoward incident took place, however.

Public Journal (also called official gazette and official diary) is applied to the record, day by day, of the business and proceedings of a public ...

Public Journal (also called official gazette and official diary) is applied to the record, day by day, of the business and proceedings of a public body.

In some countries, the publication in the official journal is a condition for the law to come into effect (known as publication in the official journal). A public journal is not necessarily released into the public domain.

Show cause letter by the Malaysian government

The Herald was issued with three warning letters before a show cause letter was sent to its publisher on July 16, 2007. A Home Ministry official told the The Sun the first warning letter was dated March 10, 2007, with the second on March 16, 2007, and the third on July 1, 2007. The official said the Herald did not print out its printing number properly and carried articles that were contrary to its publishing permit. The Catholic Herald may have its permit suspended if it goes ahead and publishes an editorial on the Permatang Pauh by-election. An official with the Malaysian Home Ministry's publication control and al-Quran text division said this was because an editorial on the by-election was a topic under current affairs and politics. [4] Che Din Yusof, of the government's Publications Control and Al-Quran Texts Unit said that the "reminder" was not a show-cause letter, per se, but was issued because the newsletter "focused on political issues on Anwar Ibrahim." [5]

Malaysia's government has accused the Christian newspaper of breaking publication rules by running articles deemed political and insulting to Islam, and warned it of stern action. The reprimand underscores the tenuous position of minority religions in multi-ethnic Malaysia amid a growing number of interfaith disputes. Christians, Buddhists and Hindus complain that their rights are being undermined by government efforts to bolster the status of Islam, the country's official religion. [6][7]

The Herald had come under scrutiny for alleged repeated breaches of its permit conditions, and came out strongly in defense of itself. The Herald had assured the Malaysian Home Ministry that the authorities had nothing to worry about as the weekly was targeted at Catholics and not the general public. Its editor, Father Lawrence Andrew, said Herald had never gone beyond issues of religion in its publications. "The editorial is only asking people to pray for a just and fair by-election. Can't we Christians ask fellow Christians to pray? Is that against the law?" He also said "We comment on issues. The Pope comments on issues. It's normal for us to have an ethical interpretation" of current events and politics, Andrew said. "I don't think we were in any way going against the type of content we have chosen." [8] "In our reply to an earlier warning letter from the same person ... we remarked that the Home Ministry had not defined the concept of religion in the application form for the renewal of printing permit, nor is there a definition of religion found in the Federal Constitution," wrote Father Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the publication, in an editorial. "So we asked them to point out where we had gone wrong. We are awaiting their reply." He defended the article, saying it does not degrade Islam or any other religion. "The article was an ethical analysis about the world after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers." [5]

On February 26, 2009, The Herald got permission to use the word Allah on its masthead, provided it clearly states that the magazine is 'For Christians only'. This was stated in the recently gazetted Internal Security Act signed by the Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar on February 16.[17] However on February 28, 2009, the Home Ministry rescinded the government gazette that allowed conditional use of the word Allah in Christian publications. The government's decision to ban the use of the word Allah in The Herald remained in force until the court decided otherwise. [

On the ruling by the Malaysian government on February 27, 2008, The Herald's editor stated that the controversial ban on the word Allah to mean God for non-Muslims is still in place. Father Lawrence quoting a letter dated February 16, 2009, said that the printing, publishing, sale, issue, circulation and possession of any document and publication relating to Christianity containing the words Allah, Kaabah, Baitullah and Solat were prohibited unless on the front cover of the document and publication are written with the words "FOR CHRISTIANITY" in font type Arial of size 16 in bold.[16]


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