Monday, December 8, 2014

Church urges govt to review laws pertaining to prohibited religious words on non-Muslims

Posted on December 4, 2014, Thursday
KUCHING: The Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM), also known as Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB), has appealed to the government to review and amend existing laws, directives or orders pertaining to the prohibited religious words on non-Muslims.

In a statement issued yesterday, BEM/SIB Sarawak president Rev Dr Justin Wan said this is necessary for the congregation to continue practising and professing their beliefs and faith freely in Malaysia as they have always done.

“It is our plea to the government to protect our inalienable and guaranteed rights to profess and practise our faith and religion freely as agreed by the founding fathers of Malaysia and as enshrined in the Federal Constitution,” he said.

Justin said the prohibition on the use of the word ‘Allah’ and other related words, have far-reaching and adverse consequences for BEM/SIB Churches and their members, most of whom are natives of Sarawak and Sabah.

He pointed out that the word ‘Allah’ has always been an integral part of the belief and worship of BEM/SIB indigenous and Bahasa Malaysia congregations since the early 1900s before the formation of Malaysia.

“From that time until now, the word ‘Allah’ and other related words were used in all the Malay and native-language Bibles and in all oral proceedings, prayers, singing and deliberations amongst the BEM/SIB members. Usage of the word has become part of us and is deeply embedded and entrenched in the religious practices, cultures and languages of our Church and its members,” he said.

“The God whom we call ‘Allah’ in our respective languages — Iban, Lun Bawang, Bidayuh, Kelabit, Kenyah, Kayan, Penan, Berawan, etc — and whom we have called upon and prayed to from the beginning until now, gives us hope, strength, direction and sense of purpose,” said Justin, adding that around 95 per cent of church members worship and pray in their own respective native languages or Bahasa Malaysia.

“The prohibition not only prohibits the physical act of using the prohibited words. The effect goes deeper by taking away our members’ means of obtaining hope, spiritual strength and sense of purpose. In a sense, the prohibition takes away from us the most important thing in our lives.”

He highlighted that hundreds of East Malaysian Christian students attend tertiary institutions in Peninsular Malaysia, most of whom were educated completely in Bahasa Malaysia with little exposure to English, and are therefore only comfortable worshipping in Bahasa Malaysia.

In addition, many East Malaysian Christians work in the Peninsula and have “used ‘Allah’ in their worship all their lives as did some of their parents, grandparents and the generations before them. And naturally, they will continue to do so in Semenanjung Malaysia”.

He explained that even if the prohibition were to apply only to the states in Peninsular Malaysia, the high mobility of people between East Malaysia and the Peninsula makes observance difficult, particularly for church members.

“This will have the overall effect of harming national integration and destroying all efforts at realising the country’s ‘1Malaysia’ vision.

“We, therefore, humbly plead with the government, to understand our predicament, which is very real, in the context of our history and the manner in which the subject word had also become affectionately our own,” he stressed.

Justin thanked Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem “for his clear and unequivocal public assurance on various occasions that we, the Christian community in Sarawak, are free to use the word ‘Allah’ in our Bibles, church services and Christian gatherings in Sarawak as we have done all this while”.

He said BEM/SIB was also relieved by the recent return of the seized Bibles containing the word ‘Allah’ to the Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) represented by chairman The Most Revd Datuk Bolly Lapok.

“We would like to thank the personalities and authorities involved in solving the impasse. We sincerely hope such a situation would not recur in future and that the 10-Point Solution be given its full effect and be honoured by all parties,” he said.

“We humbly offer ourselves to work with the government so as to ensure the ethnic and religious unity, peace and harmony and the fundamental liberties, which are the hallmark of our great nation, are preserved and perpetuated for our future generations.”

BEM/SIB started as an indigenous church in East Malaysia in 1928 and has since become one of the long-established mainline churches in Malaysia.

It has established churches in most villages in the interior and in towns and cities in the Sabah and Sarawak to meet the needs of its members for worship and congregation.

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