Bishop relieved by Mat Sabu's reassurance on 'Allah'

Catholic Bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing expressed relief that the PAS deputy president has countermanded the position taken by a lower ranked official that Christians should not use the term ‘Allah’ for God.

Catholic Bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing expressed relief that the PAS deputy president has countermanded the position taken by a lower ranked official that Christians should not use the term ‘Allah’ for God.

NONEThe views of Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, the party’s information chief, expressed in comments he made with respect to Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s Christmas Day call to the government to allow Christians to use the ‘Allah’ term were startling because they contradicted a Pakatan Rakyat consensus reached three years ago.

“Mohamad Sabu’s assurance that the position adopted three years ago still stands is a huge relief,” said Bishop Tan in remarks made to Malaysiakini following news reports on the clarification made by the PAS No 2 after its seeming repudiation by Tuan Ibrahim.

The head of the Catholic Church in the Malacca-Johor diocese, Bishop Paul Tan said that Christians in peninsular Malaysia felt that a significant step towards resolution of the controversy over use of the term was made when both PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and the party’s spiritual adviser, Nik Aziz Nik Mat, went on record in January 2010 as saying that the term as not exclusive to Muslims.

“My hunch is that the lines of intra-party communications must have been crossed and the information chief got things mixed up,” said the Jesuit-trained prelate.

“The historical evidence is inconvertible that the term was used by Christians in pre-Islamic times,” he said.

Additionally, the bishop cited the existence of Bibles written in European languages and translated into Malay in past centuries that used the term ‘Allah’ when referring to God.     

“I even have a Bible in Bahasa that was translated from the Dutch in the early part of the 17th century and it uses the term ‘Allah’ for God,” he added.

Exception unsustainable

Bishop Tan held that if all these proofs of the non-exclusivity of the term to Muslims are not enough, he wondered why Muslim-majority Arab and non-Arab Muslim states imposed no prohibitions on their Christians citizens using the term.

He said the grounds for making peninsular Malaysia an exception to this practice were unsustainable.

He said Christians on the peninsula felt that the Pakatan consensus which pronounced the ‘Allah’ term permissible for use by Christians was a progressive move that “resorted to the lamp of knowledge to dispel myth and superstition.”

“Hence we were startled by the regression implied by recent comments made by lesser ranked officials in PAS that the term should be exclusive to Malay Muslims,” he remarked.

“The PAS deputy president’s reassurance that the stance of three years ago still holds come as a relief.

"We salute his consistency, admire his courage and welcome him as a friend of truth and goodwill,” opined the bishop.


Bishop Paul's comments on his own interview by Malaysiakini that was released in the article above.
  1. The first thing to clarify is that I do not pretend to speak for all Christians. I speak only as Bishop of Melaka-Johor Diocese.
  2. I do not take any political side as this would go against the Catholic Church's teaching. Therefore, if anyone were to draw from what I have said that I am for PAS, I would like to make it clear that this was and is not my stand. I will stand up for any person, be he or she an UMNO or PAS or DAP or MCA member, who is a rational being and fights for the rights of the people. It does not matter what color or shape or religious belief he or she has.
  3. Although I am fully aware that the "Allah" issue has been made use of by politicians of different hues for their political interests, I felt that I had to speak up on the aspect of religious freedom in the hot topic of "Allah". My position is identical with all the Christian leaders in their joint 1989 Kuching Declaration that Christians can and will use the term Allah.