Keep calm, let court decide on ‘Allah’, Catholic Church pleads

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 20 — Fearing another flare-up over its claim to “Allah”, the Catholic Church called on Putrajaya to step in and douse the religious fire that has been lit ahead of its court hearing this Thursday.

Yesterday, Muslim-Malay supremacy group, Perkasa, had vowed to rally outside the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya to protest the Church’s bid to protect a High Court ruling allowing it the right to use the Middle Eastern word for god, which some believe to be exclusive to Islam.

The Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur issued a statement today, voicing its alarm and concern that recent statements over the “Allah” issue may reignite sentiments that have been simmering since the landmark 2009 High Court judgment.

“The Catholic Church is gravely concerned by the recent statements made by individuals and organisations with regard to the use of the word ‘Allah’, a matter which is pending at the Court of Appeal.

"Many of these statements are stoking racial sentiments and creating religious tension in our country.

“We humbly request all parties to respectfully allow the judicial process to take its course and urge the relevant authorities to take necessary steps to prevent any untoward incidence,” it said in the brief statement, without specifically naming any individual or group.

“We exhort all to pray that peace and good sense will prevail,” it added in the statement signed by its Chancellor, Rev Fr Jestus Pereira.

Malaysia’s Christian minority has been under persistent attack from conservative Muslim groups over the past four years.

More than 10 houses of worship nationwide were set on fire, pelted with stones or vandalised following the High Court judgment in favour of the Catholic Church.

Perkasa, a vocal Malay rights lobby, has some 407,000 members throughout Malaysia, according to the group’s acting president Datuk Abd Rahman Abu Bakar.

Perkasa’s declaration came after Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said last Saturday that the Arabic word “Allah” is exclusive to Muslims, and that non-Muslims must stop challenging this “absolute right”.

Zahid also urged Muslim groups to unite and defend against what he seemed to view as an attempt by non-believers to undermine the country’s predominant religion.

The Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur filed the application last month to strike out the federal government’s appeal against the landmark High Court judgment that had sparked a string of attacks against places of worship, including the firebombing of a church.

Father Lawrence Andrew, the editor of Catholic newspaper Herald, told The Malay Mail Online last Thursday that Putrajaya’s appeal needed to be struck out because of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 10-point solution to Christians in 2011.

Najib’s 10-point solution was an assurance to Malaysia’s Christian population that they were free to bring in and use their bibles in Malay, as well as in other indigenous languages that contained the word “Allah”, after shipments of the holy book were banned.

Deep-running anger over the issue was again exposed last month when far-right Muslim groups railed against remarks by the Vatican’s first envoy to Malaysia, Archbishop Joseph Marino, on the controversy.

In an interview with the media, Marino had described the local Catholic Church’s arguments based on the government’s 10-point solution as “logical and acceptable”.

Perkasa and Jati, another Muslim group, accused Marino of interfering in domestic affairs and demanded his censure and expulsion from the country.

Marino later apologised for the remarks and denied he was meddling in the matter.

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

The 2009 High Court decision upholding the Catholic Church’s constitutional right to use the word “Allah” had shocked many Muslims that consider the word to only refer to the Muslim God.

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