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KUALA LUMPUR – A resounding “no.”
This was the response of Christian leaders in Sabah and Sarawak to the Selangor Islamic Religious Council’s (Mais) suggestion that Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) produce “an official Malay translation” of the Bible to correct the allegedly erroneous use of the word “Allah” in the text, the Malaysian Insight posted on its news portal on 17 Nov 2017.
Mais lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla made the suggestion at the hearing of the suit brought by Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill against the Home Minister and government to uphold her constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in Christian publications.
Haniff claimed that the Christian community in Sabah and Sarawak had wrongly used “Allah” to mean God in Bahasa Malaysia, arguing that they should instead use “Tuhan” and that this would not deprive them of their rights.
Sabah Council of Churches president Bishop Melter Jiki Tais found Haniff’s statement “very insulting” to Christians.
“We are indeed very much offended by his statement and demand an apology from him. Let it be known to Mohamed Khatri Abdulla that his suggestion that Dewan Bahasa can prepare a Bahasa Malaysia Bible reflects his ignorance of theology and the true and proper interpretation of the original language of the Bible. Let it also be known to him that we, the Christian community in Sabah, do not and will not accept any Bahasa Malaysia Bible prepared by Dewan Bahasa,” the bishop told The Malaysian Insight in a text message.
He added that as far as the Christians are concerned, no individual or party should dictate to them how they should express their faith in any language.
“We will continue to use the term ‘Allah’ for God verbally or in written form,” he added.
Mais is assisting the court in understanding the meaning and context of the word “Allah” in Islam.
Haniff had told the High Court that the government was also interested in allowing the publication of a Bahasa Malaysia version of the Bible.
He had said that Dewan Bahasa would prepare the translation, to be approved by the Christian community, for the Bahasa Malaysia Bible, if the government approved the publication.
“We would then not have this issue for generations to come,” Haniff had said.
His statement also evoked a strong response from Sarawak Christian leaders.
Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Sarawak elder Liwan Lagang said the Bible was the word of God to the Christians, and therefore, it is not right for anyone to change the words or the meaning of the Bible. which the Christians held to be the truth.
“That is why we have a panel of experts, the elders, our own pastors doing the translation,” said Liwan, who is also the Sarawak Assistant Minister of Water Supply.
SIB is one of the churches in Sarawak that uses the Malay language Bible.
“No. We don’t need Mais to teach us our beliefs. Definitely not. We don’t interfere in their (religious) affairs and definitely we don’t want that to happen to us. No religion should dictate their belief to another religion,” Liwan added.
Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister James Masing asked if Mais or DBP understood the essence of Christianity.
“I have a PhD. I have many books on Islam and I have read all of them. Does that make me qualified to write what Islam should be? But more importantly, would they agree? Would they allow it? I don’t think so. Neither would Mais. They may have people with PhDs and whatnot in religion but they are not qualified to rewrite the Bible,” Masing said.
Masing said it would be “the greatest mockery this country will ever make” if Mais was given the authority to translate the Bible.
Masing also brushed off Haniff’s claim that Christians in the two Borneo states had wrongly used “Allah” for God, saying it was polemics.
“So who gave them (Muslims in Malaysia) the right to be the only people who can use the word Allah. The Arabs do not worry about it. Why should Muslims in Malaysia worry about it?” Masing said.
He said it was highly unfortunate that Malaysia allowed such polemics, which had created animosity between Muslims and Christians.
PKR Sarawak chief Baru Bian was also adamant that the Dewan Bahasa has no business translating the Bible.
“That’s fundamental. Those who translated our Bible were scholars,” said Baru, formerly an SIB church elder.
The Ba Kelalan assemblyman said there should be no dispute over Christian usage of Allah because the word predated Islam.
Deputy Chief Minister 1 Douglas Uggah tersely brushed aside questions on the matter, calling the argument over who could and could not use the word Allah a “non issue.”
“Don’t create an issue,” Uggah, who also chairs the state government’s Unit for Other Religion (Unifor) said.
He said in Sarawak, religious and racial harmony are strong and people should preserve them.
Education, Science and Technological Research Minister, Michael Manyin, however, is unperturbed by the events in court over in the peninsula.
“It is not going to affect us. We can still use the word here. Sometimes I say ‘insyallah’ in my speeches and it offends no one,” Manyin said. – the malaysian insight