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The Centre for Public Policy Studies applauds the decision to renew the publishing permit of the Kuala Lumpur-based Herald , a weekly Catholic newspaper, which was previously under question.

However, it is disappointed by the decision made by the cabinet to disallow the use of the word ‘Allah’ in reference to God. It was stated that the word ‘Allah’ is restricted to Muslims in Malaysia and that the cabinet would restrict its use because ‘it has long been the practice of this country that the word ‘Allah’ refers to God according to the Muslim faith’.

The Federal Constitution guarantees the freedom to profess and practice one's religion in Malaysia. The freedom to practice one's own religion includes allowing communities to use their own language as a medium of instruction in their respective acts of worship and scriptural study.

Arabic Christians have used the word ‘Allah’ for centuries. Similarly, East Malaysian Christians have used the word ‘Allah’ in their worship of God for generations, whilst their Malay bibles have included the word ‘Allah’. If it is the constitutional right of any Malaysian citizen to profess one's own religion, then allowing them the freedom to use the language in which they are most conversant and comfortable falls under the same jurisdiction.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdullah Mohd Zin also said that use of the word ‘Allah’ should not be made a public debate as that may give the impression that there is no freedom of religion in the country. The CPPS would like to point out that it is precisely for the preservation of freedom of religion that such issues should be discussed in an open and rational manner.

Living in a multi-religious country, these issues of contention should not be swept under the carpet but instead be confronted honestly and bravely, with equally sound solutions in hand. The approach to public policy should be increasingly consultative and constructive, as opposed to one in which any commentaries are silenced under the illusion of false unity.

The Centre for Public Policy Studies therefore proposes that the decision to use the word ‘Allah’ in any Christian material should be left to the courts, at which cases are currently being presided over already. The CPPS urges the cabinet to consider carefully the sociological, cultural and historical aspects of the use of the word ‘Allah’, as these dimensions are equally important within the public policy decision-making process.

We need to build national unity, and as the Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has repeatedly stated, to be fair to all Malaysians regardless of race or religion. The important principles of Islam Hadhari could be compromised by the government’s present stand on this sensitive matter and its credibility would be impaired.

Therefore the CPPS appeals to the government to review its decision which could be now interpreted, at home and abroad, as narrow, insensitive and contrary to our Rukun Negara and our Federal Constitution which aims to strengthen national unity which is paramount to our nation’s peace and progress in the future.

The writer is chairman, Centre for Public Policy Studies.