Fr. Lawrence Andrew Not To Be Singled Out On “Allah” For Bahasa Malaysia Service

Catholic priest Rev. Father Lawrence Andrew's life is at risk as long as Selangor Umno roadshows single him out as the main instigator of non-Muslims using "Allah" in the state, say several concerned lawyers.

They agreed that despite targeting Andrew, the real purpose of the roadshows was to threaten the Christian community against using the word.

Some 30 roadshows have been planned by Selangor Umno and some Muslim groups purportedly to explain Selangor's controversial legislation governing propagation among Muslims and the restricted usage of the word "Allah".

Andrew was singled out for saying that Christians will continue to use "Allah" in their Bahasa Malaysia service, when he had quoted the Federal Constitution which guaranteed freedom for each religion to manage its own affairs.

Lawyer Annou Xavier told The Malaysian Insider that Andrew's statements were based on the consensus of the Catholic community, as such, he cannot be singled out.

"You cannot separate Father Lawrence, who happens to be the Herald editor, from the Catholic community.

"It's like this, you cannot say Umno is behind the roadshow, but the PM is not," he said, as an example.

He also explained that the "Allah" case in court was not initiated by Andrew, but the office of the Titular Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, which represented the Catholic community.

In October, a three-man Court of Appeal bench allowed Putrajaya’s appeal to reverse a High Court ruling that Catholic weekly Herald could not use the word Allah as "it was not an integral part of the Christian faith and practice".

The church is appealing that decision.

As such, Annou called on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to stop the roadshows, as it did not serve any purpose.

"The roadshows are bad as it gives rise to suspicion, anger, mistrust and gives the wrong perception about the Christian community.

"It is also a threat to Father Lawrence's safety by channelling public anger towards him," Annou added.

Lawyers for Liberty co-founder Eric Paulsen is not even buying into the story that the roadshows were not against Christians in general, but only against Andrew.

He said instead, the Catholic priest was being used as a red herring to deflect accusations that the roadshows were in reality a crusade against Christians using the word “Allah”.

As such, Paulsen urged Umno and the Muslim groups to get some kind of leadership from the prime minister, instead of going out on their own.

He said that while he advocated freedom of speech, roadshows such as these over a sensitive issue would only shore up anger and spread false information.

Paulsen added that the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia's (Jakim) Friday sermons of late was also "full of lies" over the "Allah" case.

"What if some misguided person decides to take the law into his own hands?

"We are all for freedom of speech but there is no freedom to incite violence," he said.

Another lawyer, Syahredzan Johan suggested that the authorities keep a close watch on the roadshows, to ensure speakers do not incite hatred and channel anger towards Andrew.

He added that this monitoring would be no different from when authorities keep close tabs on assemblies and gatherings by groups that are not government-friendly.

"If they say things like Father Lawrence is a threat to Islam or national security, then there would be several offences they are committing and the authorities should step in," he said.

Last Friday, speakers at a Selangor Umno roadshow in Shah Alam had said that their focus was on Andrew, who they alleged was instigating Christians to break the law.

The speakers had also said Andrew did not represent the opinion of the majority in the Christian community.

The focus on Andrew was largely seen as casting Selangor Umno as the party which is defending the state law and several Muslim decrees which ban the use of "Allah", and other terms such as "Baitullah", "solat" and "Kaaba" by non-Muslims.

“This is done on purpose by Andrew, not by other Christians. Not all Christians agree with Andrew. All this while, Muslims and Christians have lived together in peace. Why is Andrew sparking this issue?" Norman Toha, secretary general of Malay rights group Jalur Tiga (Jati) said.

But Shariah lawyer and constitutional expert Nizam Bashir told The Malaysian Insider that he could not see what the fuss was about over Andrew's statement, especially since the word was being used in the confines of churches and not to convert Muslims.

He added that if the intention of the roadshows was to defend Islam, the organisers were failing miserably.

"They are instead spreading false information, there are enough verses in the Quran which effectively say that non-Muslims can refer to God as Allah," Nizam said.

He also described the raid by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) on the Bible Society of Malaysia and the seizure of bibles in Bahasa Malaysia and Iban as unwarranted, adding that there was no proof that the bibles were being used to propagate Christianity among Muslims.

Religious tension in the country heightened after Jais's raid. The raiding party also detained BSM chairman Lee Min Choon and manager Sinclair Wong.

Following that, Muslim groups had protested near a church in Klang against the right of Malay-speaking Christians to worship in Bahasa Malaysia using the word Allah.

Prior to the 2011 Sarawak elections, Putrajaya had endorsed a 10-point solution to allow Christians in Sabah and Sarawak to use Allah in the Malay version of the bible, which was negotiated by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala.

Andrew, meanwhile, is being investigated for sedition after he had been reported by The Malaysian Insider as saying that churches in Selangor would continue using the word “Allah” during their Bahasa Malaysia services.

His statement was in response to Jais's announcement that they would write to all churches in Selangor and tell them not to use the word "Allah" in their worship and publication.

Last week, church leaders of various denominations had come out to say that they were united with the Catholic Church on the stand that Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians should be allowed to use the word "Allah" in their worship.

Throughout all this, Putrajaya has kept silent on the issue even as Christians looked to Idris Jala for an explanation.

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