The “Allah” row remains unresolved more than three years after the Catholic Church’s High Court victory.
An evangelical church group has urged Christians to call on Election 2013 candidates to support legislating the freedom for all Malaysians to profess their religion of choice.
The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia (NECF) also said in its GE13 booklet titled “Christians & The Ballot Box” that those elected should table in Parliament draft proposals on child conversion and inter-religious custody disputes.
“In the coming elections, amidst the many legitimate concerns, NECF wants to highlight freedom of religion which has rarely been put before candidates in past elections,” said NECF in the GE13 booklet that was uploaded on its website, together with a prayer booklet announced in its quarterly newsletter “Berita NECF” published this month.
“One of the conditions that must be of concern to Christians is the freedom of religion. This means the freedom to change one’s belief, and to manifest one’s faith in teaching, practice, worship and observance,” it added.
Islamic laws forbid Muslims from renouncing their religion and the country’s Islamic legal system has provisioned that a state must impose mandatory punishment for apostasy.
The country’s dual system of both Islamic law and federal law has resulted in controversies surrounding freedom of religion under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution when Muslims try to convert to other religions.
The Federal Court rejected in 2007 Christian convert Lina Joy’s bid to have the word “Islam” removed from her IC, ruling that the civil court could not intervene in issues of apostasy.
Custody disputes have arisen when non-Muslims embrace Islam and subsequently convert their children without the consent of their non-Muslim spouse.
NECF also said in the GE13 booklet that government agencies that “spread hate ideology of other races, religions and cultures”, like the National Civics Bureau (BTN), should be reformed.
The Christian group, which includes evangelical churches and the Sidang Injil Borneo churches in the peninsula and East Malaysia, called on election candidates to ensure a government administration free of “undue influence” from religious authorities.
“Maintain strict observance of boundaries in Syariah law whereby non-Muslims are not subject to its jurisdiction,” said the NECF.
The NECF insisted in its newsletter that Christians had the right to call their god “Allah”, pointing out that it was “ludicrous” for a religious group to dictate to another religious group what words could or could not be used in their holy scriptures.
“Secondly, the reality of our socio-political context is that concessions made by minority groups in one area could eventually lead to more concessions being extracted further down the road,” said the NECF.
The Home Ministry’s appeal against the 2009 High Court ruling, which upheld the Catholic Church’s right to publish the Arabic word for God in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its weekly newspaper, Herald, is fixed for case management on April 25, without a hearing date given.
The 2013 national polls, which will be held in weeks, is expected to be the keenest election in recent times, with analysts saying that the outcome is in doubt for the first time in Malaysian history.
A Sabah church group said last January that the religious freedom of Christian Bumiputeras was under attack, following calls by Malay rights group Perkasa to burn the Alkitab, the Malay-language bible, over the use of the word “Allah”.
The National Fellowship Commission on Sabah Affairs (NECF-COSA) pointed out that most of the country’s Christians are natives from Sabah and Sarawak who use the Malay language.