GPS vows to defend and preserve Sarawak’s religious tolerance amid govt’s appeal against “Allah” ruling

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Sixty-five civil society groups representing different communities nationwide have also urged the prime minister to withdraw the government’s appeal.

The Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS)-led state government has stressed that it will continue to defend and preserve Sarawak’s religious tolerance as it is the core unifying factor for the people in the state.

A statement by the Sarawak Chief Minister’s Office today said that the current administration led by Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg had been consistent in its policy of religious tolerance as laid down under the leadership of his predecessors, Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud and Pehin Sri Adenan Satem.

The statement came following remarks made by various quarters in the media over the issue of the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.

Several peninsular-based political parties and Muslim groups objected to the court’s decision as it was a green light for non-Muslims to use the word ‘Allah’, an Arabic word for god.

The Home Ministry is appealing the court’s decision.

Earlier today Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar urged Putrajaya to continue its appeal against the High Court’s ruling on the matter.

Abang Johari, however, reiterated there has never been a restriction for Christians in Sarawak to use the word Allah.

“It has to be made clear that the GPS (Gabungan Parti Sarawak) government, from former chief minister Adenan’s administration (until)…now the current administration, the state government’s policy on religious tolerance in Sarawak is consistent.”

On Monday, the federal government filed its appeal against the High Court ruling allowing Christians to use the word “Allah” in their religious education and books.

A copy of the notice of appeal was sent to the Registrar of the Court of Appeal and lawyers for Sarawakian Jill Ireland, who had won a judicial review application recently.

It was previously reported that Muara Tuang assemblyman Idris Buang said the majority of Christians in Sarawak have been using “Allah” for a long time to refer to God in their Malay-language or Iban bibles.

He said there cannot be a monopoly on the term “Allah” as others can use it too.

The CMO statement said the government “will continue to defend and preserve Sarawak’s religious tolerance.”

Religious tolerance, it added, was the core unifying factor for the people in the state.

Adenan Satem, who died in office in 2017, three years earlier in 2014 said there was no law in Sarawak that restricts non-Muslims in Sarawak from using the word Allah in their prayers and in their literature.

He also assured that the state would not legislate any laws that would curb their use of the word.

Selangau MP Baru Bian today also divulged that Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, when he was the minister of home affairs in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, had rejected attempts to settle the issue.

Izzrafiq Alias/The Star

Baru, who was the works minister in the PH government, which collapsed in February last year, said he and several other ministers made the effort to have the Allah issue settled out of court.

He said the attempts were thwarted by Muhyiddin.

The court’s decision on March 10 held that Jill Ireland had been deprived of her constitutional right to practise her religion.

In a suit filed in 2008, Jill sought official recognition of her constitutional rights to practise her religion and non-discrimination under Article 11 and 8 of the federal constitution.

She filed her suit after eight CDs of educational Christian material containing the word “Allah” were seized from her at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on her return from Indonesia.

Meanwhile, 65 civil society groups representing different communities nationwide today urged Muhyiddin to withdraw the government’s appeal.

In a joint statement, they said “Allah”, the Arabic word for God, was borrowed by Bahasa Malaysia, Iran, Bidayuh, Punjabi and more.

Tenaganita, Sisters in Islam (SIS), Suaram, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), Pusat Komas and the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) were among the 65 who have endorsed the statement.

“We call upon the government and the people to seize the high court’s decision as the closure of the 35-year-old polemic since the federal cabinet’s decision to ban its universal use.

“All political parties should not exploit the high court’s decision for narrow political mileage,” they said.

They said the use of “Allah” by Christians has been viewed by peninsular Muslims as an attempt to convert Muslims, when in fact only those in Sabah and Sarawak use the word.

Due to this cultural shock, the coalition said the ban on universal use of the word Allah by the Federal Cabinet in 1986 stemmed from the Muslim community’s concerns that they were becoming the target of aggressive proselytisation.

They added that this is incidentally a common concern of all other religious communities in Malaysia.

“Underlying such cultural shock is the ignorance that Christians in Nusantara have been praying to Allah in Bahasa Melayu, Bahasa Iban, Bahasa Bidayuh, Bahasa Lun Bawang, Lun Dayeh, Kelabit, and some other regional languages for as long as 476 years.

“The undisputed fact is that Muslims constitute near or more than 90 per cent of the population in Arab countries and Indonesia, even though Muslims and Christians have shared the word ‘Allah’ and other religious terms for 1,442 and 476 years respectively,” they said.

As such the High Court’s decision is restoring the pre-1986 status quo, as well as undoing a restriction on Sabah, Sarawak and Orang Asli Christians. This may be an unfounded threat felt by many Peninsular Muslims but not shared by Sabah and Sarawak Muslims.

“The High Court’s decision should be viewed positively for two grounds. Firstly, it would strengthen Malaysia when Christians in Sabah and Sarawak can freely pray to Allah as their Christian cousins in Indonesian Kalimantan do.

“Secondly, it is reaffirming the status of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language for all. We urge the Prime Minister to withdraw the Government’s appeal against the High Court’s decision,” said the coalition.