Sarawak's Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing (pic) today lambasted gutless federal leaders whom he said are tip-toeing around the Allah issue with an unsound policy apparently aiming “to appease everyone”.
“Leaders (in the federal cabinet) must be brave enough to take the bull by the horns and decide once and for all which set of religious laws Malaysians must abide by.
“We must take the bull by the horn and tell the bull who is boss,” Masing, an outspoken and fierce critic of the federal government's stand on the Allah issue, said when reacting to the Selangor Islamic Religious department (Jais) raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) where 300 copies of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia and Iban were carted away.
The raid, where 15 Jais personnel and two policemen went to the BSM office in Damansara Kim and demanded to be let in without a search and seizure warrant, is the latest incident to set the mercury rising in the country's religious thermometer.
Masing is particularly critical of the policy where Christians in the peninsula are banned from using the word Allah in their Bibles and religious publications in line with the Court of Appeal's ruling last October, but exempted Christians in Sarawak and Sabah from the ban under a 10-point solution agreed to by the Federal Cabinet in 2011.
The Court of Appeal had ruled in favour of the Home Ministry to ban the Catholic church's weekly publication, Herald, from using the word in its Bahasa Malaysia section.
Legal experts are questioning that exemption, saying the Court of Appeal ruling applied to all Malaysians, including in Sarawak and Sabah where the majority of their people are Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians.
“I expected this type of action from the Islamic religious authorities. Though I expected it, it was nevertheless most disappointing in a Malaysia where the constitution says in no uncertain terms freedom of religion exists.
“This raid is a reflection of a policy gone wrong. We cannot have one nation with two sets of religious laws applicable on the same issue. It wouldn't work. It can't work. Malaysian leaders must decide once and for all which set of religious laws Malaysians must abide by.
“This way Malaysians will have a clear choice on what to do. The law should be applicable to all, whether they stay in Lubok Antu (in Sarawak), Pulau Penyu (Sabah) or Kuala Perlis.”
Masing said the government's policy on the Allah issue was not based on principle, but based on appeasement.
This policy of appeasement, Masing added, is the cause of rising religious tension in the country.
He said religious policies should not be decided based on political expediency.
“They must be based on sound religious principles tempered by centuries of divine wisdom.”
Masing reminded the federal leaders that people in Sabah and Sarawak travel.
“They go to the peninsula to work. How is it that they are allowed to use the word in one half of the country and not allowed in the other half?”
Christians make up about 9% of the Malaysian population, or 2.6 million. Almost two-thirds of them are Bumiputera and are largely based in Sabah and Sarawak, where they routinely use Bahasa Malaysia and indigenous languages in their religious practices, including describing God as Allah in their prayers and holy book.
Besides the Bumiputera Christians from East Malaysia, some of whom have moved to the peninsula to live and work, Orang Asli Christians in the peninsula also typically use Bahasa Malaysia in their worship.
He asked why the use of the word is an issue now.
“Why is it a problem now? What makes Muslims in the peninsula have the copyright to the word?”
He asked if the religious freedom enshrined in the Federal Constitution had been dumped for “limited freedom of religion”.
“Do we have religious freedom or is it restricted now?”
Datuk Dr Thomas Tsen, president of the Sabah Council of Churches, said he was shocked and disappointed with the raid.
“This is so shocking and disappointing. We can feel with our Christian brothers and sisters in Selangor.
“We pray that this issue can be resolved as soon as possible, with a peaceful, respectful and fair resolution in Selangor, for the stability and harmonious life together of our beloved one country of Malaysia,” Tsen said.