Malaysian court postpones hearing on church's use of 'Allah' materials

A Malaysian court hearing on the appeal by an evangelical church to use the word "Allah" in its Sunday School materials has been adjourned to next month.

The Evangelical Church of Borneo, otherwise known as SIB (Sidang Injil Borneo), and its president Pastor Jerry Dusing filed the appeal at the High Court in Jalan Duta, Kuala Lumpur on January 16 this year against the Internal Security Ministry and the Malaysian Government, reported Sinchew Daily.

The hearing, which was postponed because of the busy schedule of Judge Datuk Abdul Kadir Musa, will resume on November 12.

On August 15 last year, SIB was preparing to bring in three cartons containing six different publications from Indonesia to be used as Sunday School materials when they were withheld by a customs officer at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang, Selangor, and later handed over to the Internal Security Ministry (ISM), according to The Sun.

Nearly a month later, Dusing received a letter from the ISM stating that the import of the publications had been denied, that Christian publications containing the word "Allah" cannot be distributed in Malaysia.

The letter also stated that "the publications can raise confusion and controversy in Malaysian society".

In response the church sent an appeal letter dated September 24 to the minister, stating that the previous prime minister had allowed the use of the word "Allah" in their publications.

The official religion of Malaysia is Islam but the nation's constitution respects freedom of religion, freedom of education, protects from discrimination on the grounds of religion, and guarantees the right of all religions to be practised in peace and harmony.

The ministry replied the following month restating the prohibition on the use of the four words in Christian publications.

The reasons given were that such use has offended Muslims, and so the government would only make a special exception for the Alkitab - the Malay translation of the Bible, which uses "Allah" and may only be used in churches. The exception does not apply to other Christian publications.

"The government practises religious freedom as enshrined in the constitution but bears the responsibility of avoiding any confusion in the community of various religions, which if allowed to occur, will threaten security and public order," read the ministry's letter.

Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, a federal minister, however, said that the authorities should allow the use of Bahasa Malaysia, including the word "Allah", in all publications and not restrict it to Islamic materials.

"My view is Bahasa Malaysia is the national language for all, irrespective of the racial groups or religious beliefs. It should be a matter of pride for all Malaysians, followers of all religions, to use the national language for their worship," he told The Sun, adding that the bumiputra Christians have been using "Allah" in reference to God for a long time.

Dompok, who is in charge of keeping the Prime Minister's Department abreast of issues faced by Christians, in commenting on the case involving the right to use the word, said "Allah" was also part of the Bahasa Malaysia vocabulary, and the ISM's directive that the Catholic weekly Herald stop publishing its Bahasa Malaysia section, could jeopardise the government's effort to promote the national language as the language of unity.

SIB had filed a case in early December last year, and the authorities have returned the materials on January 25, but the church still decided to challenge the ISM's decision to ban the import of such materials, according to Sin Chew Daily.

In their appeal letter, they sought the revocation of the ISM's decision to ban the church from importing the teaching materials, and asked the court to grant them the right to use the word "Allah" when translating the Bible, other religious publications and teaching materials into Bahasa Malaysia or Indonesia.

Dusing said to the paper that in the nine times he had appeared in court he emphasised that the church needed these materials to teach the believers.