Why can’t Malaya be more like us?

Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged.

— Jalal ad-Din Rumi, Persian poet

“You can use the word ‘Allah’ any time you want. No problem. Just use it with respect. I will not tell you how to practise your religion. I am a Muslim and I try to be a good one”.

“But I will not tell my fellow Christian friends how to worship. It is their business”.

These quotes from the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem were among his famous words in his short but memorable stint as Sarawak chief minister.

It endeared him to not only his most ardent supporters and loyal allies but also his toughest critics.

He didn’t lose any support echoing the sentiment that our brothers and sisters, regardless of colour and creed, should be afforded the respect and room to practise their faiths in ways they see fit.

At that time, the nation was consumed with the ruling of its highest court which rejected the Catholic Church’s application to appeal a ban on its use of the word ‘Allah’ in the Malay-language section of its newspaper, the Catholic Herald.

This was also a time when, like today, the issue caused tempers to flare and increased tensions in this multi-ethnic nation.

The recent High Court decision invalidating a 1986 directive prohibiting Christian publications from using the word ‘Allah’ renewed the sentiments to say the least.

On Thursday, the Muafakat Nasional (MN) Consultative Committee urged that the High Court ruling on the use of the Islamic words be referred to the Court of Appeal.

MN in a statement said the coalition views seriously the High Court decision in allowing non-Muslims to use Islamic words in their publications.

This also caused leaders from both sides of the political divide calling on Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) — the more open minded faction of the relatively conservative government — to speak up against the move by MN.

Adenan’s successor and GPS supremo Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg has time and time again reiterated his stand on the issue.

“We don’t see it as a problem for the Christians to use the word ‘Allah’,” he said only months after taking the reins from Adenan in early 2017.

“Now, with Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas looking after the affairs of non-Muslims and myself looking after the affairs of the Muslims, we will work together with other leaders for the betterment of Sarawak.

“There is no other state like ours,” he said.

In 2019, when taking bigots to task, he said: “In Sarawak if you want to use the word ‘Allah’, just use it. We have no problem with that.

“After all it is between you and God. You cannot accuse that one is unholy, it is not your power, its God’s power.”

The state government’s view is consistent — that Islamic words can be used by Christians in their prayers and churches.

It is at times like these I wish our friends in Malaya would be a little more tolerant, understanding and not so narrow-minded.

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing on Thursday said the decision to quash the ban on the use of the word ‘Allah’ by the Christians showed that religious freedom was alive and well in Malaysia.

“We must bear in mind that the use of the word ‘Allah’ precedes Islam. Thus, the word is not the sole custodian of those who profess the Islamic faith,” Masing, who is also Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president, said.

And he is right. So is Selangau MP Baru Bian when he urged the federal government to not contest the High Court’s decision.

Sarawak is not Malaya and conversely, Malaya is not Sarawak.

The people here don’t jump in fear at the sight of pork and we don’t get weak knees when the air wells at our rooftops coincidentally resembles a cross.

And in the words of Adenan: “Orang Sarawak ini ada orang Melayu, Cina, Dayak, Bidayuh, duduk sama, minum sama, makan sama, cari amoi pun sama.”

Religious bigotry and racial sentiments never got a foothold here and it shouldn’t start now.
I end with the words of Senator Robert Lau Hui Yew, whose take on the recent High Court decision stuck with me: “The right to religious freedom and no official religion were part of the promises made to Sarawak in the formation of Malaysia.

“Our leaders from these two Borneo states have to be continuously be on guard to protect and defend our rights under Malaysia Agreement 1963.”

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