Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, Malaysian Insider
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 1 — Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said today that his predecessor should not have banned the word “Allah” from being used by the Catholic Church.
The decision, he added, will continue to haunt his ministry “for a very long time.”
“In this ministry, it is a zero-sum game. We are [now] in an uncharted landscape which will haunt us for a very long time.
“We should have let the sleeping dogs lie. It was triggered by those that believed that the word ‘Allah’ should not be used in Sabah and Sarawak,” he said during the Fourth Annual Malaysian Student Leaders Summit here.
Former home minister Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar had imposed the word ban on the Church’s newspaper, The Herald, two years ago.
Syed Hamid had temporary allowed the conditional use of the word “Allah”, only to rescind the government gazette later.
He had then cited fears that the use of word outside an Islamic context would cause confusion to Muslims.
Today, Hishammudin stressed that the Church appreciated the circumstances surrounding the ban.
“Church leaders understood fully that there are different levels of maturity and understanding in our constituents. The issue required wisdom and a decision but it is not as easy as you think.
“When you become a minister then you would find that it is difficult in finding a balance between the majority and minority,” he said.
The Catholic Church has since won a court ruling upholding its constitutional right to print the word “Allah” in its newspaper on December 31, 2009 but a government application to stay the ruling has dragged the case out longer.
The Court of Appeal has yet to indicate when it will move the case along. Several retired jurists said it cannot take very long, while one lawyer said it could take up to two years before the first hearing.
“We are looking at it and there is a court case and we are waiting for the outcome. There is [a] difference between acceptance and customs that have been used in the past in Sabah and Sarawak. The reaction from Muslims in the peninsular and Sabah and Sarawak will not be the same,” Hishammuddin said.
Supporters of the Church have argued that Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians in Sabah and Sarawak have used the word “Allah” for generations and it has become part of their cultural norms.