Police said they only “advised” organisers of a Christian gathering in Kuching last week “to move” a banner with the word “Allah” on it and not remove it.
“We never ordered them to take it down. We only advised the organisers to place the banner further in (in the Borneo Convention Centre where the gathering was held),” said Sarawak Deputy Police Commissioner Datuk Law Hong Soon.
Law said police had last Friday asked the organisers of the Gempuru Besai Kristian Jaku Iban (GBKJI) Malaysia (gathering of Iban Christians in Malaysia) to move the banner from the roadside.
“They complied with the request and we are happy,” Law said, but did not want to be drawn on why the police wanted the banner relocated.
But what troubled Ujang was the manner in which police had made their request.
He said no police officer met any of the organisers and the request was relayed to them by the convention centre's security chief.
Ujang said the security officer was also uncertain if the person he spoke to was a police officer.
The security chief told him the instruction “came from the commissioner of police”.
Ujang said they did not wish to make a fuss over a “small matter” nor did they wish to turn it into a confrontation that could have marred the four-day gathering that began last Thursday.
The organisers complied with the request and put the banner nearer to the entrance of the convention centre.
The banner had the words, “Allah Taala Engau Kita” (God is with us).
“I don't think it had anything to do with the word 'Allah'. When we moved the banner to a higher spot at the convention centre, it became more noticeable.”
The Court of Appeal had in October upheld the Home Ministry’s decision to ban the use of the word “Allah” in the Catholic Church weekly Herald.
The court said “Allah” was not integral to the practice of the Christian faith, overturning an earlier High Court decision that the ban was unconstitutional.
The ruling, however, led to churches in Sabah and Sarawak being more vocal in pressing their right to use the word Allah, as they represent the majority of the country's Malay-speaking Christians.
The Iban – the state's largest ethnic group – makes up 52.6% of Christians in the state and they had been using the word “Allah” for more than 160 years
Their forefather converted to Christianity with the arrival of the Anglican Church's missionaries in 1847.
To appease the Christian majority in Sabah and Sarawak, the Government said the Court of Appealing ruling would not apply to Christians in the two states – an argument some legal experts are disputing.
The Government said the 10-point solution agreed on in 2011, which allowed Christians in Sarawak and Sabah to use the word “Allah”, was still valid.
The solution, which Putrajaya drew up just before the Sarawak election, allowed the printing, importation and distribution of the Alkitab, the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Christian bible, containing the word “Allah”.
The 10-point solution was to end a Home Ministry blockade of shipments of the Alkitab and other Christian publications containing the word “Allah”. – December 17, 2013.