Let me share my experience with a group of people who are not permitted to use word Allah in their prayer book.
Until a few days ago it has been a yo-yo kind of decision by the Home Minister with regard to the law on the issue. Now law is back to square one, from allowing with condition to not allowing at all until court decides otherwise.
I’m not arguing about the legality of it since the case is pending for judicial review, I’m merely talking about the people, who among them, I knew for a long time now.
The people that I’m talking about are the Lundayeh from Sabah, and the Lunbawang from Sarawak; the two are actually of the same ethnic, but called in two different names in these two different regions. I don’t mention other ethnics here, which share the same predicament.
The Lundayeh, aren’t permitted to use word Allah in their prayer book because they are Christian, if they are allowed to use word Allah it’s going to confuse the Muslims. That’s the version of the reason given by the Home Minister of Malaysia, (then) Datuk Syed Hamid Albar
The Lundayeh people are the followers of Sidang Injil Borneo-SIB, a relatively new group who professed a Christian religion in Sabah and Sarawak, started by Evangelical Mission, earlier called The Borneo Evangelical Mission-BEM.
Hudson Southwell pioneered the mission with his two friends from Melbourne, Australia who landed in Kuching from Singapore in 1928. Met Rajah Brooke –Sarawak Rajah, and in that same year he was given permission to establish this mission.
By the 60s Bahasa Malaysia is not only the official language of Malaysia, but also the only language widely spoken throughout Borneo Island, thus in mid 60s, BEM changed its name to Sidang Injil Borneo, shortly as SIB.
By the late 50s and early 60s, the religion quickly spread through out the Brunei Bay region (South West of Borneo) it found its way into Sipitang district, Lawas and Limbang in Sarawak.
To make the work easier, which is only logical, the Lundayeh preachers concentrated in converting their own ethnic group first before heading elsewhere for example to the interior of Sabah, to Kota Marudu and Kudat alike.
When I was a child I used to hear my Lundayeh relatives made a joke of how unsure they were about their newly adopted religion, because prior to 1920s most of Borneo people who lived in the interior were animists, and Lundayeh were in the same category not until the late 50s.
My guess why they hang on to this religion is, first, there is a need of religion, second, may be in view of the silence in our Federal Constitution, as to the fate of those who wish to practice no religion compelled them to have one.
SIB preachers trained in various places in Sarawak, they also have training institutions in Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Once graduated preachers are called Gembala, linguistically they are very fluent in Bahasa Indonesia. Thus in their holy book the terms their used are very similar to the Malay Muslim ways of saying, like, dosa, syurga, neraka, roh, kiamat, and so on and so forth.
During my schooling days especially living in boarding school, in the 70s, many of my Lundayeh schoolmates, who were also my relatives and cousins, used to hide their prayer books- (they also called it bible) under their pillows or elsewhere in the cupboard. I used to sneak looking into the pages and it wasn’t difficult to read because it was all written in Bahasa Indonesia, when compared with the Quran, which are all in Arabic.
In that bible, it mentioned word of Allah in numerous accounts. And very many other similar terms used like, opening remark, “Dengan nama Allah yang pengasih dan penyayang” In the name of God, the Gracious and the Merciful.
One of my Lundayeh relative, a teacher, could write beautiful Jawi. Given the Quran to him he could even read and pronounced the ayats easily, except just like me, had no inkling of the meaning.
We, of the same age group and the same background, except different religion found no difficulty in adopting and understanding each other. Honestly no question asked, consciously or unconsciously. We could be asking funny questions, like, what would happen if we die, will we meet somewhere, after all we are relatives, and we shared the eerie of dying because all we know there is hell ever ready awaits the un repented persons.
Kadayan likewise have always been in close neighbour with Lundayeh, so too Murut Tagal, Kelabit in Sarawak, and Brunai (Malay Brunei’s race), at one time, all except Brunai, were called Orang Darat–people of the interiors.
My grandfather is Lundayeh adopted by a Kadayan family, he became Muslim; he married to my grandmother a Kadayan from Sarawak of course it didn’t make him doubly Muslim, but a Muslim lah! See how close I were!
My reason of saying this is just in case someone is doubtful of how much I knew about the two ethnics.
In Sipitang District, the Lundayeh people intermingled with the Kadayan and Brunai ever since immemorial day, and lots of intermarriages have taken place over the centuries.
One hardly recognize based on appearance and complexion whether one is Muslim or not, even the names sound very much Muslim, Yusuf, Aini, Musa, and so on.
But the modern names for Lundayeh are very much sound Western, such as George, Hendricks, John and so on, but their last names can be classical, like, Labo, Balang, Singa, Agong, Selutan, Pengiran, and so on. My younger brother, a few of my first cousins and I too have our own Lundayeh’s name but I would rather keep it secret for a while.
Not long ago if one went to Lawas, Sarawak, one would find my Lunbawang relatives wearing songkok, those who are not familiar with the place thought they were Muslim but they were not.
But my question really, why is it, as time goes by religious becomes a sticking point to our harmony in this country? Political leaders are so bogged down about it when fifty years ago it was non-issue. I’m very doubtful as to the ability of our leaders from both sides across South China Sea to manage our multiracial country.
Now, the obvious, all matters pertaining to religions, race, immorality, and integration issues, are but started in Peninsula. The issues are overblown out of proportion; in one fine morning thing can turn upside down because of some mad politicians have no better things to do than creating havoc and polluting people’s mind.
Our political leaders squabbling over issue which I consider time and energy wasting when they should have spent it for resolving the country’s unresolved economic problems- unemployment, rising cost of consumer goods, bad roads, toll hike, illegal immigrants in Sabah, so on and so forth.
There is an urgent need to change the dilapidated brains, if our country is to survive in a better shape for another fifty years. And we are not only talking about improvement but an extra ordinary leapfrog achievement, otherwise we are neither here no there. (By AMDE SIDIK/MySinchew)
Amde is an author, columnist and lecturer based in Kota Kinabalu. This article was first posted on his blog www.kadayanjournal.com on 7 Mar 2009 and updated today. Reproduced with permission as originally published without editing.