Federal Court decision on ‘Allah’ defies common good

The Federal Court dismissal of the Catholic Church application to appeal the ban over the use of the word ‘Allah’ has created a dark scenario for the future of the country and this is truly frightening because it has violated the very foundation of a just society which is: common good of all citizens as enshrined in the Malaysian constitution.

Jul 11, 2014

Dear Editor,
The Federal Court dismissal of the Catholic Church application to appeal the ban over the use of the word ‘Allah’ has created a dark scenario for the future of the country and this is truly frightening because it has violated the very foundation of a just society which is: common good of all citizens as enshrined in the Malaysian constitution. A sense of Balance of Islam as an official religion of the Federation while other faiths could practise in peace has been overtaken by the dictatorship of the majority. A decision that favours the common good of citizens would have taken into consideration the complexity of society here that is made up of various cultures and creeds where their own form of spiritual expression is regarded as part of human dignity because it comes from the depth of the heart of Human persons.

The Constitution becomes a common platform for human dignity where what is due is given to each community so that common aspirations that unite society such as truth, justice and brotherhood takes precedence over Ethno-Religious identity that is only part of the Constitution. Some would argue that the sense of balance that has emerged through the decision of the Federal Court, where Sabah and Sarawak Christians can still use the word ‘Allah’ in their worship while this word is prohibited in the Peninsular due to Muslim sensitivities, does not make sense because justice is not based on subjective ideology or sensitive emotions but rather on what is right and due. There are significant numbers of Sabahans and Sarawakians working and residing in Peninsular Malaysia.

It is sad that the Federal Court has shown its lack of courage and intellectual capability to deal with complex administrative and legal questions posed by the Catholic Church which could have addressed these constitutional issues. By addressing these issues, the four judges could have played a significant role in getting the nation back to basics and balance and this would have helped educate the politically inclined to see the Constitution as a whole rather than pick and choose provisions that serve vested political interests. There are various unanswered questions related to common good that have emerged from the decisions of the four dissenting Federal Court judges.

Is Justice in Malaysia, especially on religion related issues, subservient to the subjective views of the Malay Muslim majority rather than the due needs of every Malaysian citizen that is based on universal values of coexistence? What sort of Islam is practised in this country? Is it based on a particularistic, legal conception of Islam or is it based on truth, justice and freedom? Can a word in a religious scripture that has been used for centuries by Christian natives be replaced just because certain insecure religious fanatics are uncomfortable with it and threaten to create chaos? Can a community be denied justice just because there is the possibility of another segment of society turning violent? Can a court come to a decision that has far reaching consequences on mere suspicion of motive of other religions without concrete proof that the word ‘Allah’ has been used to convert Muslims? All these critical questions have been usurped and hidden under the carpet of an extremist religious ideology in this country where its elites understanding of the Constitution is merely to assert the supremacy of Islam rather than common good. It is obvious that the Federal Court’s decision reinforces this ideology.

Ronald Benjamin
Ipoh

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