KOTA KINABALU - Churches in Sabah are concerned that the Court of Appeal ruling banning The Herald from using the term "Allah" would lead to a wider restriction on the use of the word among bumiputra Christians in Malaysia, says Sabah Council of Churches president Bishop Datuk Thomas Tsen.
He noted that there were 1.6 million bumiputra Christians in Sabah and Sarawak who use Bahasa Malaysia in their worship in addition to their native languages and they make up about two-thirds of the country's Christians.
Tsen said proscribing the use of the word "Allah" would turn the native bumiputra into law-breakers.
"The ruling contradicts a common practice of the Church in Sabah and Sarawak for hundreds of years.
"A most serious breach of the pillar pertaining to religious freedom is the assault on the rights of bumiputra Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians to the use of the Al-Kitab (Bible) and the word Allah.
Tsen said the 10-point agreement by the Cabinet on the printing, import and distribution of the Bahasa Malaysia Bible should be honoured as well.
Upko president Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, who was instrumental in the establishment of diplomatic ties between Malaysia and the Vatican, said the ruling was a sad day for the natives of Sabah and Sarawak.
"The use of the word 'Allah' in both states predated the formation of Malaysia. The word is being used by Christian communities in Indonesia and the Arab world. Why should Malaysia be any different?" he asked.
In PETALING JAYA, a constitutional law expert said the court's decision could have a far-reaching impact.
Syahredzan Johan said that in a similar case in the future, the Government could rely on this decision to ban the use of any word under the rationale that it would cause confusion.
"This is the true impact of this decision," said Syahredzan.
Syahredzan said that while there was no challenge right now to the Bahasa Malaysia edition of the Bible, the Al-Kitab, the Court of Appeal, in its decision, had said that the word "Allah" can cause confusion if used by Christians.
"So you can foresee that if a future government wants to extend the Allah ban to churches in Sabah and Sarawak, they would rely on this judgment. This judgment opens the door. Now, you can stop a community from practicing its faith in a certain way under the reasoning the practice would cause confusion," he added.