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October-20-2017 Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill (1)

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The Malaysian Insight

Christians who use ‘Allah’ ‘don’t contravene public order law’

by Bede Hong

19 October 2017

USING the word “Allah” is not an act contrary to any general law on public order, said lawyers representing a Christian woman who once had her religious books seized by the authorities.

Lim Heng Seng, representing Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, a native Bumiputera Christian from Sarawak's Melanau tribe, told the Kuala Lumpur High Court today that Article 11(5) of the Federal Constitution stated that “this article does not authorise any act contrary to any general law relating to public order, public health or morality".

In his submission to judge Nor Bee Arifin, Lim argued that the use of the word “Allah” by the applicant and her co-religionists did not contradict Article 11(5).

"She did not act in a manner that breaches Article 11(5) of the Federal Constitution. There is no general law relating to public order or, for that matter, public health or morality that prohibits the use of the word.

Present were counsel representing 10 Christian groups, including the Christian Federation of Malaysia, Borneo Evangelical Church, Sabah Council of Churches, Association of Churches in Sarawak and MCA.

Lawyer Shamsul Bolhassan represented the Home Ministry and government.

"We've got powers to deal with threats to public security," Lim said, adding that a ban on the use of the word “Allah” would disrupt interfaith relations.

"It would be like an Iban flying in from East Malaysia and declaring whether he has firearms or drugs. Similarly, if a Christian (flies in), he would have to declare whether his religious books contain the word 'Allah'.

"Let there be balance, Your Honour. It is not up to the state to dictate how you believe and who you believe in."

The judicial review application arose from Jill's decision to withhold delivery of eight Christian educational audio compact discs under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA).

The Home Ministry confiscated the eight CDs bearing the word “Allah” from Jill at the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang on May 11, 2008.

In August that year, she filed for a judicial review for the return of the CDs, which she had bought for her personal use.

The respondents were named as the Home Ministry and government.

"There is also no dispute that using the term 'Allah' is a practice of the Christian religion," said Lim.

"This is a matter of historical record. Christians and churches that use Bahasa Malaysia in the profession and practice of Christianity use the word 'Allah' to refer to God.

“This is a practice of Christian native Bumiputera communities in Sabah and Sarawak, as well as the Orang Asli and Babas in Peninsular Malaysia. They use their holy book Alkitab, which is in Bahasa Malaysia, and in which references to the Almighty Creator God is the term 'Allah'.

"Alkitab and all published (religious) materials in Bahasa Malaysia use this holy word. Bahasa Malaysia is, thus, used in their prayer books, liturgy, worship and religious instruction, as well as training."

Lim said the word “Allah” had been used for centuries, and by "generations long" before Merdeka in 1957 and the formation of Malaysia in 1963.

He said the word appeared in Christian holy scriptures from as early as the 17th century until the early 20th century, referring to the first complete Bahasa Malaysia Bible translated by M. Leijdecker in 1733.

Lim referred to the 1986 Government Directive, exercised under PPPA, which prohibits all Christian publications from using the word “Allah”.

Christian publications are liable to such action solely on the grounds that they contain the word, regardless of their contents.

"The 1986 Government Directive is both unlawful and unconstitutional. It infringes on the rights of (Jill) and her co-religionists, who worship in Bahasa Malaysia in practising their religion, as guaranteed under Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution.

"(The Home Ministry and government) have exceeded their bounds, and have abandoned their duties of neutrality and impartiality, and demonstrated clear bias and impartiality in exercising their executive power."

Lim said Christians who worshipped in Bahasa Malaysia had used the word “Allah” for generations, and its use had become integral in all aspects of Christian life, from birth rights to marriage to final rites.

"Christians who profess and practise the faith using Bahasa Malaysia have been calling on 'Allah' all their lives and they regard the term as His sacred and highly exalted name. To expect them to now revert to another name is unjust, harsh and oppressive.

He said Alkitab used the term “Allah” for God and the word “Tuhan” for Lord.

"The word 'Allah' cannot be replaced with the word 'Tuhan' when translating the terms “Tuhan Allah” (Lord God) in describing Lord Jesus, who is, Himself, God in Alkitab.

“To do so would result in a duplicity of gods (“Tuhan Tuhan”), which is blasphemous as Christians believe in only one God, who is revealed in the Holy Trinity.

"Without Allah and the term 'Allah', there would be a doctrinal defect in the profession and practice of Christianity among the native Bumiputera Christians of Sabah and Sarawak.

“Without using both 'Allah' and 'Tuhan' together, Christians who worship in Bahasa Malaysia are unable to affirm the fullness of the Biblical revelation, which teaches about the deity of Jesus Christ, who is distinct from God the Father, which is the basis for the Christian Confession of the Trinitarian God.

"This lies at the heart of all Christian creeds and catechisms used in Christian worship, prayers, baptism and religious instruction.

"Hence, 'Allah' is essential and integral to an authentic expression of the Christian faith and doctrine. Share this quote Share this quote"

Lim referred to Customs Department senior officer Suzanah Muin’s statement, regarding the seizure of Jill's books, that the word “Allah” was exclusive to Islam.

"It discloses a fundamentally flawed understanding of Article 3 of the Federal Constitution. They (respondents) are also in error when they say the word 'Allah' is exclusive to Islam.

"The premise for their views is that Christians have a different understanding of 'Allah' from Muslims, and that the word is a personal name, and that such a name is uniquely associated with the God of Islam.”

Lim cited four Malaysian Muslims scholars, namely PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, Penang information officer Wan Ji Wan Hussin, Perlis mufti Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin and Amanah vice-president Mujahid Yusof Rawa, who attested that both Muslims and non-Muslims used the same reference to Allah.

They had cited verses from the Quran and Hadith affirming that Christians and Jews use the word “Allah”.

"The term 'Allah' is from the Arabic language, which coexisted and dynamically interacted with other cognate Semitic languages, like Hebrew and Aramaic, hence, the word also appears in other Semitic languages.

"The word 'Allah' was already in use before the arrival of Islam, for example, in the name of the Holy Prophet’s father, who died a polytheist, Abdullah ibn Abdul-Muttalib, and hence, is not unique to the Arabic language and neither is it a creation of Muslims nor did its existence begin in the Quran."

The judicial review sought a declaration that Jill, along with other native Bumiputera Christians in Sabah and Sarawak, had the constitutional right to practise the Christian religion "freely and without hindrance", including the right to use all religious terminologies in the Malay and Indonesian languages in the same way as when the Borneo states joined Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963.

The hearing has been adjourned to November 2, when government lawyers will present their submission. – October 19, 2017.


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