Thursday, March 04, 2010

Allah: Court asks Home Ministry to settle with SIB

The High Court today set an April 30 deadline for the Home Ministry to have an out-of-court settlement with the Sidang Injil Borneo over the use of the word “Allah” in Christian books.

If negotiations to settle the three-year dispute are not successful, the High Court will fix a hearing date for the case, said a lawyer for the evangelical church.

Judge Aziah Ali made the call in her chambers this morning. Her ruling came just two months after another High Court ruled that the Catholic weekly Herald had a constitutional right to use the word Allah to describe the Christian god.

Senior federal counsel Azizah Nawawi acted for the ministry while Lim Heng Seng and Bobby Chew represented the SIB.

Pastor Jerry Dusing, who heads the Sabah SIB branch, told The Malaysian Insider the church has always been open to resolving the dispute out of court.

“We have no problem. All we want is for them to declare we can use the word in all our religious materials published in Bahasa,” Dusing said.

He explained that he had resorted to the courts in December 2007 after failing to get the ministry to lift a ban on Christian books imported from Indonesia.

Earlier that year, Royal Customs and Excise Department officers had confiscated at the KLIA low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) eight religious books brought in by the church for its Sunday school classes for children.

The ministry, which controls the department, had claimed the books contained the word Allah which is barred from use by non-Muslims, and seized them to prevent confusing Muslims.

Dusing said the books were teaching references meant only for Christian consumption and would not be used to preach to Muslims, as the ministry appeared to imply.

He suggested to the ministry for the church to stamp the words “For Christian Use Only” or “Christian Publication” on the front cover of all its religious books so that it would be clear to Muslims who may inadvertently land their hands on such books and be confused after reading them.

But the ministry has yet to reply to the church’s idea.

Dusing explained that the church had to the import the Malay-language religious books from Indonesia because none were available in Malaysia.

“You think it’s cheap to bring them in?” he pressed.

The pastor related how the church had previously tried to get local printers to produce Christian religious books but failed because of two reasons.

The printers were reluctant because they said they needed a special permit from the ministry and claimed they had been harassed by ministry officials who threatened to withdraw their licences.

Dusing added that the church members, spread throughout Sabah and Sarawak and the peninsula, numbered well over 300,000 and, because of their ethnic diversity, commonly spoke Bahasa Malaysia during worship and religious classes.

He hoped the dispute could be settled amicably.

The SIB was set up in 1928 and has grown into one of the biggest Christian denominations in Malaysia.

In Sabah alone, there are 120,000 members. In Sarawak, the biggest state, there are more than 100,000 though Dusing was unsure of the actual figure, and in the peninsula, there are 30,000 SIB members.

news courtesy of Malaysian Insider

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