Many Faiths, One Nation: our vision for Malaysia


Recent events

Over the past week, our country has witnessed tragic events. Numerous churches were attacked by vandals who threw Molotov cocktails, a Sikh gurdwara was stoned, the Judiciary’s website was hacked and the lawyer acting for the Catholic newspaper the Herald had their office broken into.

These attacks seem to have been done by various elements reacting to the recent High Court decision allowing the Herald, a publication distributed by the Catholic Church exclusively to its followers, to use the word “Allah” to describe God in its Bahasa Melayu articles.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism is heartened and grateful for the subsequent messages of conciliation and condolence extended to the Christian and Sikh communities by various Muslim politicians and NGOs, and efforts now being taken by the Muslim community to calm the situation.

Although we respect the right of all persons to gather peacefully and to express their criticism over decisions of public authorities, be they the Government or the Judiciary, such criticism must be reasoned and must not descend into violence.

State legislation

There has also been much in the news recently about the various State enactments prohibiting the use of certain words by non Muslims. For example, MAIS president Datuk Mohamad Adzib Mohd Isa’s statement (New Straits Times dated 12/01/2010) said the Non-Muslim Enactment gazetted in 1988 prevents the use of the word “Allah” and various other words by non-Muslims.

The law in question is a state law. The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism had met the then Right Honourable Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamed in 1988 expressing our concern over the State law passed which in our view was unconstitutional, and issued a statement on 8/09/1988.

  • A copy of our press statement issued at that time is set out below.

Since then, the MCCBCHS raised the matter with the government a few times and expressed our apprehensions. Successive Prime Ministers and Home Ministers all assured us that so long as the word “Allah” was used within the respective religious community only and not to preach to Muslims, then there would be no problems.

It must be recalled that this legislation is made under Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution which permits State legislatures to make law to “control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam“.

This is important. The Constitution only permits the law to restrict the propagation of religious doctrine amongst Muslims. It does not allow the law to curtail the liberty of non Muslims to profess and practise their respective religions in “peace and harmony” individually and in community with others [Articles 3 and 11(1) & (3)].

Thus, Justice Lau Bee Lan’s decision to allow the Herald to use the word “Allah” during Christian worship but not if its usage was to propagate religion was entirely consistent with our Constitutional framework. The caveat put by Lau J seems not to have been widely reported or emphasised, but was reported in the New Straits Times on 31st December 2009.

Why use Allah?

Many have questioned why Christians and Sikhs must use the word “Allah”.

The word “Tuhan” and the word “Allah” have different meanings, as has been explained in the affidavits filed in Court. “Tuhan” is used to describe “Lord”, and hence Jesus is also sometimes referred to as “Tuhan Yesus”. God is referred to as “Allah”. It is unfair for Christians, many of whom are proficient only in our national language Malay, to not be able to use the word “Allah” properly in worship. It would lead to absurdity.

As for the Sikh community, the word “Allah” appears in their holy book the Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhs believe that book contains the revealed word of God, and the word “Allah” appears in the original language of the  Guru Granth Sahib, Punjabi, the language used by the Sikh community in their worship all over the world. Sikhs are not allowed to change the original words in their holy book. It is unfair to expect them to do so.

Appeal for calm and understanding

We appeal to all concerned to see the issue as from the point of law and the Federal Constitution, and in its proper perspective.  We cannot allow our emotions to cloud this issue. Any pressure brought to bear on the Judiciary would undermine its integrity and impartiality. In the end the matter must be looked from the point of law and the legitimate rights of all the communities.

We welcome the efforts and statements made by various leaders calling for calm, and attempting to initiate dialogue between the religious communities. In such dialogue, we must stress that all parties must recognise that

  • There is still law in place to control and restrict the propagation of other religions to Muslims.
  • The word “Allah” still cannot be used to preach other religions to Muslims. The High Court only ruled that “Allah” can be used by Christians in their own religious practices and internal publications.
  • This is exactly the position it has been for more than 20 years, and agreed to by both Tun Mahathir and Tun Abdullah Badawi.

We are ready and willing to assist in further dialogues between the leaders of all religious groups so that all parties can understand each other’s concerns, and work towards resolving this situation in our usual Malaysian spirit of muhibbah.

Rev. Dr Thomas Philips,

MCCBCHST President



Joint Press Statement dated 8th September 1988 issued by the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS) and the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM)

We, the Executive Committee and members of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism and the Executive Committee members of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), strongly object to the passing of the bill on ‘Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Bill 1988′ which was passed on Tuesday, September 6 in the Perak State Assembly.

A delegation from the CFM met Dato’ Seri Ramli Ngah Talib on 1st September to express our deep concern over the then proposed Bi1l.

Contrary to Press reports (N.S.T. 7/9/88), which stated that all objections to the Bill were found to be baseless, we would like to state in no uncertain terms that this is incorrect.

And it is equally false as reported in Utusan Malaysia 3/9/88 that the delegation was “satisfied” with the explanation given by Dato’ Seri Ramli on the necessity of passing the above State Bill.

The objections that we raised with Dato’ Seri Ramli Ngah Talib were that:

–    The then proposed Bill would undermine national integration and unity by keeping any meaningful social intercourse with other communities in the country (clauses 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, of the Bill).

–    The Bill seeks to undermine religious understanding and respect by keeping a community from knowing about the beliefs and practices of other religions; understanding one another’s religious beliefs and practices will give rise to greater mutual tolerance and harmonious co-existence.

–    The Bill contradicts the National Language policy and the “Cintailah Bahasa Kita” campaign, which the Government is presently, promoting. Now non-Muslim are prevented from using the 25 prohibited words, which are currently Bahasa Malaysia words. This is incomprehensible!

–    In our religions, there are no alternative words to do some of the prohibited words. As a result, this has created great distress, conflict and confusion amongst our faithful.

–    Some of the prohibited words are actually pre-Islamic and have been used by non-lslamic for centuries. There are no valid reasons why our faithful should de prevented from using them.

–    Muslims and Christians in 33 countries of the world are using the same word “Allah”. There is no reason why in Malaysia, a country which professes to be progressive, should prohibit the use of words like “Allah” and other words by non-Muslim. In The case of Sikhs, most of these prohibited words are in their Holy Scripture and in their exegetical text.

We, members of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism and members of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, must in all conscience reject this Perak Bill. This is unconstitutional and clear interference with the free practice of one’s religion.

Mr. Joginder Singh, MCCBCHS President               Bishop Antony Selvanayagam, CFM Chairman


January 22, 2010 - Posted by | Public Statements

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