Church: Hasan Ali stoking religious tension ahead of ‘Allah’ appeal

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 16 — The Catholic Church accused Datuk Hasan Ali today of stoking religious tension when he criticised the church for appealing its right to use “Allah” and called it “malicious”.

Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of Catholic weekly Herald, said Hasan was attempting to undermine the Archbishop’s right to appeal the matter with his criticisms, which he described as “highly irresponsible, contemptuous and offensive”.

”Hasan Ali’s inflammatory statements also serve to stoke religious sentiments in order to create fear and confusion leading to unnecessary tension and strife before the application is heard by the Court of Appeal,” Lawrence wrote in a statement emailed to The Malay Mail Online today.

The Malay Mail Online reported yesterday that the tussle over the word “Allah” will return to the courts on August 22, when the Court of Appeal hears the Catholic Church’s bid to dismiss Putrajaya’s appeal against the 2009 High Court ruling upholding the Christians’ right to use the Arabic word.

The hearing will be the first time the matter has returned to the legal arena since it was left to languish for nearly four years after the government contested the landmark decision that had shocked Muslims in Malaysia.

When discouraging “irresponsible” statements ahead of the hearing on the application, Lawrence also cited Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam as saying that the Court of Appeal should be allowed to make a decision without “interference or intimidation”.

”The Archbishop also calls on the relevant authorities to take appropriate action against irresponsible parties who create instability and unrest by exploiting the issue surrounding the use of the word “Allah” by Christians and thus acting in contempt of the legal proceedings pending in the Court of Appeal,” Lawrence wrote.

Hasan is also accused of undermining the Archbishop’s legal rights, where the latter had moved to get the Court of Appeal to throw out the Home Ministry’s appeal.

”The Archbishop in filing the application to strike out the appeal was merely exercising his legal rights to strike out an appeal which is believed to have been rendered academic,” Lawrence said, referring to Pakiam’s July application as the Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur.

”Hasan Ali in deploring such an action as extreme, malicious and intended to test Muslim patience and threaten the sanctity of Islam is seeking to undermine the Archbishop’s right to pursue his legal remedies and obstruct the administration of justice,” he added.

Yesterday, JATI leader Hasan also described Pakiam’s court affidavit as allegedly being “subjudice” and ignoring the sensitivity of local Muslims.

Last Sunday, The Malay Mail Online reported Pakiam as arguing that Putrajaya’s appeal against the 2009 High Court ruling giving the Catholic Church the right to use the word “Allah” is inconsistent with the Najib administration’s 10-point solution in April 2011.

Pakiam had noted that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had issued the 10-point deal despite knowing of the Home Ministry’s appeal in January 2010, saying that the 2011 solution amounted to Putrajaya’s nod over the High Court’s landmark decision.

In the affidavit, Pakiam said the April 11, 2011 letter could be seen as a recognition and acceptance by the government of the Christians’ rights to use the
word “Allah”, after the community was told it was free to print Bibles
here in languages using the word.

He went on to say that it purportedly shows the government’s acceptance of the Catholic Church’s right to use the Arabic word in Christian publications, including its weekly publication Herald.

The Court of Appeal is set to hear the Catholic Church’s striking-out application on August 22.  If it fails in its bid to strike out the case, the appeal will be heard on September 10.

Ahead of the heated Sarawak state polls in 2011, Putrajaya had issued the 10-point solution to the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) - an umbrella body of churches nationwide - which allowed the Christian community to publish and distribute Malay-language bibles.

The letter was seen as a move to quell the Christian community’s unhappiness over the government’s impounding of two shipments of the bibles, due to the presence of the word “Allah” in its reference to
the Christian God.

The “Allah” row erupted in 2008 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the Herald’s newspaper permit, prompting the Catholic Church to sue the government for violating its constitutional rights.

In 2009, the High Court made a landmark ruling in favour of the Catholic Church, when it said the Middle Eastern word was not the exclusive right of Muslims and the Herald could publish it in its
Bahasa Malaysia section, which caters to its Bumiputera congregation.

In January 2010, the Home Ministry filed an appeal, but there was a three-year hiatus before the dates were fixed for the case at the Court of Appeal.

Christians are Malaysia’s third-largest religious population at 2.6 million people, according to statistics from the 2010 census, behind Muslims and Buddhists.

Bumiputera Christians form about 64 per cent, or close to two-thirds of that figure, and have prayed in the national language and their native tongues for centuries.