Give back our religious freedom, Sabah churches in Malaysia Day plea

Rev Jerry Dusing
Rev Jerry Dusing

KOTA KINABALU ― The religious freedom that Sabah had enjoyed before it agreed to be a member of Malaysia in 1963 should be restored, the Sabah Council of Churches said in its Malaysia Day message.

The council’s president, Rev Datuk Jerry WA Dusing, said Sabah’s Christian community today just wanted to be able to practise their faith freely.

“On behalf of the Christian community of Sabah, I call for the return of our total freedom of religion pre-Malaysia. We do not want to be viewed with suspicion in the practise of our faith.

“We do not want our holy books and other imported materials confiscated at the gates of entry into our country. We do not want to be dictated on how and in what manner we should refer to our God,” he said in the statement released Saturday and published in the MalayMail online.

The local Christian community ― including the Bumiputera Christians especially in Sabah and Sarawak that use Bahasa Malaysia ― have in recent years experienced government seizures of their bibles and personal or church materials that contain the Arabic word for God that has been adopted for use in BM, “Allah”.

The Catholic Church also had to challenge the Home Ministry’s ban of the use of the word “Allah” in its multilingual weekly for its members, where many speak BM.

Dusing highlighted the importance of religious freedom in the founding of Malaysia in 1963 as a partnership between the four nations: the Federation of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore. The last was expelled in 1965.

“Have we forgotten the covenant made between our forefathers? The guarantee of religious freedom is one of the pillars of foundation of this nation. Malaysia was a unity of diverse and secular nations.

“It was negotiated upon just principles of fairness and equity. It was the aspiration of our forefathers that we would come together to manifest the real possibility of a successful rainbow nation. This is the destiny of Malaysia!” he said.

In the same statement, Dusing also said local churches want state assemblymen and the Sabah government to embrace their authority and uphold Sabah’s rights under the Malaysia Agreement.

“We must not be sidelined in any decision making relating to the Malaysia Agreement any longer. It is the desire of all Sabahans to see the restoration of our identity and authority as per the Malaysia Agreement.

“First and foremost, we desire to see Article 1 of the Federal Constitution be amended to restore Sabah’s status as per Section 4(2) of the Malaysia Agreement – Sabah’s status as one of the nations that formed Malaysia and not merely one of the states as that of the states in Malaya. We wait to see a united political will amongst our leaders in the State Assembly to act on this matter,” he said.

Dusing also urged for the public to dig deep into the history of September 16, 1963, which he said is not only the founding of Malaysia but also the day Sabah started self-government.

Distinguishing self-government from independence, he noted Sabah’s first Cabinet was formed when the late Tun Fuad Stephen and the late Tun Datu Haji Mustapha bin Datu Harun took office as Sabah’s first chief minister and Sabah’s first Yang di-Pertua Negara Sabah.

“For many years, we celebrated 16th September as only TYT’s Birthday. Is it not significant that it was the date our first Cabinet was formed and we tasted self-government? Has this date been given due recognition in our Sabah State Constitution?” he said.

“It is timely that we acknowledge and pay due respect of this date for its significance to both Malaysia and Sabah. Precise history should be made available to all our people and a fit commemoration for a highly significant historical date should be considered by our State Government,” he also said.