Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sabah church sues PM over book ban

Source: Malaysiakini.com

A Sabah church has sued the government and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his capacity as internal security minister for not allowing the import of Christian literature from Indonesia containing the word ‘Allah’.

Sabah Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Church president Pastor Jerry Dusing filed the suit on behalf of the church at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Dec 10 after six titles for their Sunday school education for children were banned from being imported.

The church is also asking the court to compel the minister to return the consignment of materials that were ‘unlawfully detained’ by customs officers at the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal on Aug 15.

According to letters from the ministry, the books were banned because the Bahasa Indonesia publications contained various words that are exclusive only to Islam.

The words in contention are ‘Allah’ (God), ‘Baitullah’ (House of God), ‘Solat’ (prayer) and ‘Kaabah’ (The Sacred House).

The letters state that the ministry is allowed to stop any propagation of religious doctrine or belief to Muslims in accordance with Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution allowing certain words to be restricted and prohibited from use.

The ministry explained that the prohibition was due to the uneasiness felt in the community during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the issue has become sensitive and been classified as a security issue.

It also stated further that the publications can raise confusion and controversy in the Malaysian society.

Dursing’s affidavit rebuts several of these points including the use of Alkitab - the Bahasa Indonesia translation of the Holy Bible - where the word ‘Allah’ appears.

“The Christian usage of ‘Allah’ predates Islam. ‘Allah’ is the name of God in the old and the modern Arabic Bible.

“The Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia translations of the Holy Bible have been used by Christian native peoples in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak for generations,” it stated.
Educational purpose

He also noted that the publications was for educational purposes within the church and was not for sale or distribution outside the church.

“The publications will not be made available to members of the public and in particular to a person professing the religion of Islam.

“The publications contain nothing which is likely to cause public alarm or which touches on the sensitivities of Islam,” the affidavit read.

A range of constitutional provision were also raised by the applicants. The hearing for the application for leave in the Kuala Lumpur High Court is scheduled to take place on Dec 27.

The controversy over the use of ‘Allah’ in non-Islam publications recently surfaced when Herald - the largest Catholic newspaper - was facing problems when renewing its annual publishing permit because of the word ‘Allah’ was used in referring to ‘God’ in its Bahasa Malaysia section.

The ministry has told the publisher to remove the entire Bahasa Malaysia section or the permit will not be renewed when it expires next week.

Asked for an explanation on the matter, Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharum said the word ‘Allah’ can only be used in the context of Islam and not any other religion.

The Herald, which is published in four languages - English, Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil - has a circulation of 12,000.

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