PETALING JAYA, Aug 21 — Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam has urged Catholics nationwide to pray for tomorrow’s highly-anticipated Court of Appeal hearing, when the Catholic Church is scheduled once again to duke it out with the government over its right to use “Allah”.
The hearing could see another legal victory for the Church or prolong its legal battle for the right to refer to its God as “Allah”, the word in the centre of a protracted legal battle that has put a major strain on religious ties between Christians and Muslims here.
”The Archbishop of KL calls on Catholics to gather in Churches on Thursday, 22 Aug 2013 from 9am-12noon to pray for a just verdict while the Allah case is being heard at the Court of Appeal,” read a brief text message forwarded to The Malay Mail Online by Father Lawrence Andrew, the editor of Catholic weekly Herald.
Yesterday, the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur made a similar plea for prayer for “peace and good sense” to prevail, having voiced its concern that recent statements over the “Allah” issue may reignite sentiments that have been simmering since a landmark 2009 High Court ruling.
“We humbly request all parties to respectfully allow the judicial process to take its course and urge the relevant authorities to take necessary steps to prevent any untoward incidence,” the Archdiocese said in a brief statement signed by its Chancellor, Rev Fr Jestus Pereira, without specifically naming any individual or group.
Both messages come amid a call by Perkasa for Muslim groups to rally outside the Court of Appeal tomorrow to protest the Catholic Church’s bid to protect a High Court ruling allowing it the right to use the Middle Eastern word for god, which some believe to be exclusive to Islam.
Perkasa, a vocal Malay rights lobby, has some 407,000 members throughout Malaysia, according to the group’s acting president Datuk Abd Rahman Abu Bakar.
Perkasa’s declaration on Monday came after Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said last Saturday that the Arabic word “Allah” is exclusive to Muslims, and that non-Muslims must stop challenging this “absolute right”.
Zahid also urged Muslim groups to unite and defend against what he seemed to view as an attempt by non-believers to undermine the country’s predominant religion.
The Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur filed an application last month to strike out the federal government’s appeal against the landmark High Court judgment that had sparked a string of attacks against places of worship, including the firebombing of a church.
Father Lawrence told The Malay Mail Online last Thursday that Putrajaya’s appeal needed to be struck out because of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 10-point solution to Christians in 2011.
Najib’s 10-point solution was an assurance to Malaysia’s Christian population that they were free to bring in and use their bibles in Malay, as well as in other indigenous languages that contained the word “Allah”, after shipments of the holy book were banned.
Deep-running anger over the issue was again exposed last month when far-right Muslim groups railed against remarks by the Vatican’s first envoy to Malaysia, Archbishop Joseph Marino, on the controversy.
In an interview with the media, Marino had described the local Catholic Church’s arguments based on the government’s 10-point solution as “logical and acceptable”.
Perkasa and Jati, another Muslim group, accused Marino of interfering in domestic affairs and demanded his censure and expulsion from the country.
Marino later apologised for the remarks and denied he was meddling in the matter.
The “Allah” row erupted in 2008 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the Herald’s newspaper permit for its reference to God as “Allah”, prompting the Catholic Church to sue the government for violating its constitutional rights.
The 2009 High Court decision upholding the Catholic Church’s constitutional right to use the word “Allah” had shocked many Muslims that consider the word to only refer to the Muslim God.
Christians are Malaysia’s third-largest religious population at 2.6 million people, according to statistics from the 2010 census, behind Muslims and Buddhists.