Religious Liberty

FAQ - The SIB court case

FAQ - The SIB Court Case

Q: Why did SIB Sabah bring the matter to court instead of finding other avenues?

A: It is the policy of SIB to resolve any dispute with any party peaceably through reasoned persuasion and amicable means. But, in this case, all other means have been exhausted without any resolution.


This case affects

  • the fundamental right and freedom to practise and express our faith
  • the ministering of our sacraments, liturgy, worship and
  • the teaching of our Scriptures.


Therefore, SIB is seeking a redress from the court.


Q: What are the facts of the case?

A: On 15 August 2007, three boxes of Christian educational publications were unlawfully detained at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) at Sepang by a customs officer.


The publications, shipped from Indonesia, belong to the SIB Sabah. They are the Sunday school materials solely for the religious education of the children of the church.


 Subsequently, the Internal Security Ministry took over the matter on grounds that the publications contained the word “Allah.” They then gave SIB 14 days to return the publications to its point of origin in Indonesia, failing which the officers would destroy them.


The SIB church appealed on several occasions to the relevant authorities but without any success.


The Ministry relied on a circular issued on 5 December 1986 [ref: KKDN S.59/3/9/A.Klt.2] which, among other things, said:”Perkataan yang tidak boleh dipakai atau digunakan dalam semua penerbitan di Negara ini ialah: Allah, Kaabah, Baitullah, Solat.”


Q: What is SIB seeking from the court?

A: The SIB Sabah is asking the court:

1)      to quash the minister’s decision to not allow the church to import four titles in Bahasa Indonesia as well as withholding delivery of another two titles under the Printing Presses And Publications Act 1984;

2)      for the return of the publications;

3)      for several declaratory reliefs related to the matter.


Q: Is this court application supported by other churches?

A: The action is filed by SIB Sabah because it has the locus standi. However, the Council of Churches of Sabah, the umbrella body in the state is fully in support of our action. The case is also filed with the endorsement of NECF and CFM (Christian Federation of Malaysia).


Q: How has the word “Allah” come to be associated with SIB Sabah?

A: SIB is the largest Christian denomination in Sabah and its members are mainly Bumiputera Christians of various ethnic groups. The Alkitab – the Bahasa Bible – is its principal Scripture.


“Allah,” the word of God, was used in the printed version of the Gospel of Matthew in Malay (1629) and the complete Malay Bible (1731-1733). “Allah” as such has been used in the liturgy, prayer, worship, sermons and religious education among the Bumiputera Christians of the Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak for generations. Not only it bears theological significance of our faith, it is our cultural heritage as Sabah Christian Bumiputeras.


Q: Why do we find the ban ridiculous?

A: Many see no reason why Christians cannot use the word since the entire generation has grown up using Bahasa Malaysia as medium of communication. Furthermore, the usage of the word is common among Christians in the Middle East and has never been a source of conflict or problem.  The Arab Christians today have no other word for God than “Allah”. In the pre-islamic Arab, “Allah” was used as reference to creator-god. Even the chairman of the PAS Ulama Council, Ustaz Daud Iraqi, noted that it was permissible for Christians to use the word “Allah” (Harakah, 3 Jan).


Q: What is the Cabinet view on this?

A: We can only say the Cabinet had designated two Christian ministers to oversee issues pertaining to Christians. On 27 Dec 2007, The Sun reported that Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, as having said:  The authorities should allow the use of Bahasa Malaysia, including the word “Allah”, in all publications and not restrict it to Islamic materials.”


The bumiputera Christians have been using “Allah” in reference to the Almighty for a long time, he told theSun.


For instance, he said, the younger generation of the Kadazan, who could not converse in their mother tongue, used “Allah” instead of “Kinoingan” in Kadazan in their prayers. They pray to “Allah”, just like the Indonesian and Arab Christians.


Dompok, who is in charge of keeping the Prime Minister’s Department abreast of issues faced by Christians, was asked to comment on recent cases involving the right to use the word “Allah”.


Q: Is there an out-of-court resolution to this dispute?

A: Yes. In our application we are asking the court for three orders. Two of them have been overtaken by events as the ministry has since returned our consignment of the publications. This leaves only our third area of reliefs by way of declarations. It does not have to proceed if a mutual agreement can be reached.


Q: How did the confusion arise?

A: A Gazette Order PU (A) 134 of 1982 allows the Alkitab to be used in churches by Christian without any restriction, even to the use of the word “Allah.”


However, confusion arose when an unspecific department circular was issued subsequently by the then Secretary General of the Home Affairs Ministry dated 5 Dec 1986 addressed simply to: “Semua Penerbitan Agama Kristian.”


Various church groups immediately sought clarification but none was given, other than verbal assurances that this circular would not be enforced. This explanation was taken in good faith by the churches then. However, from time to time, the government officials interfere based on the written circular dated 5 December 1986.


Our suggestion is:

1) Withdraw the circular letter dated 5 December 1986 so as not to affect the Gazette Order PU (A) 134 of 1982. This can be done by issuing another letter to this effect to the SIB, and/or NECF and/or CFM.




2) Amend the 5 Dec 1986 letter by another letter to the parties above to read:

“Perkataan yang tidak boleh dipakai atau digunakan dalam semua penerbitan Kristian di Negara ini ialah: 1) Kaabah, 2) Baitullah, 3) Solat.”


SIB Sabah

 9 April 2008

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