Three things we learned from: Malaysia’s ‘Allah’ case

Now that the Federal Court has slammed its doors shut on the Catholic Church, it is stuck with the Home Ministry’s 1986 ‘Allah’ ban.

Jan 30, 2015

By Ida Lim
Now that the Federal Court has slammed its doors shut on the Catholic Church, it is stuck with the Home Ministry’s 1986 ‘Allah’ ban.

The ministry told the Catholic Church five years ago that it could continue publishing its weekly newspaper HERALD but under one condition — no printing of the word ‘Allah,’ which the Church then challenged in court.

Here are three things we learned about the country’s most prominent case revolving around the Arabic word for God, ‘Allah.’

1. Barometer for civil liberties
At the end of the day, the ‘Allah’ case is not just about the Catholic Church’s right to continue communicating to its Bahasa Malaysia-speaking members, which is an estimated 60 per cent of its one million members.

It is not just about theological differences between Muslims and non-Muslims or the linguistic debate over who can use an Arabic word adopted into the national language Bahasa Malaysia.

What is at stake here is the state of civil liberties in the country, especially that of the religious minorities.

The question is: “Do you, as a Malaysian, feel safe enough to go about your everyday life? Do you feel secure and assured that your religious freedom, as a minority, will not be slowly chipped away before it’s completely gone one morning?”

But what is seen as a constitutional right for a religious minority, is seen by some as a provocation and a threat to the Muslims, who make up the majority of this country’s 30 million-strong population who get government- funded places of worship, events and civil servants dedicated to the administration of their faith.

2. The threat that is not real
We have people telling us that allowing non-Muslims to use the word ‘Allah’ will cause public unrest and security issues in multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia, a supposedly “moderate” country.

Even in the Catholic Church’s very last legal bid at the Federal Court, a lawyer told the judges to let the matter lie instead of facing the risk of reopening “old wounds” and reigniting “public unrest”.

But the threat is not real. It was never real. (For those who still think it is real, look back at the official view of national “security” as early as the 1980s to trace the birth of this carefully nurtured, but unfounded fear.)

No one is questioning the position of Islam as the religion of the Federation.

No Christian is trying to provoke or upset Muslims by using the word ‘Allah,’ it is merely what they have been using for generations in their worship and prayers. For many Bumiputera Christians, it is the only word they know, and use to call God, since they were born. For doubters and sceptics, check out the centuries-old historical proof and documentary evidence.

No, this is not about how things are different in Peninsular Malaysia, where the Muslim population is allegedly more “sensitive” than the easy-going folks in East Malaysia. Is this how people really think or is this just what they have been taught?

The point is, the Christian community — as do many others in the whole of Malaysia, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike — remains committed to living peacefully together.

There is no fist-raising and blood-thirsty cries by the Christian community in the wake of the ‘Allah’ court ruling, in fact, just see what the HERALD editor Fr Lawrence Andrew himself said on Wednesday, Jan 21: “So we have to work towards living in peace and harmony in our country and at the same time, we hope and pray that the rights of minorities will not be trampled upon, the rights of minorities will be taken as sacred.”

3. Everyone is still clueless
Five years’ worth of legal arguments and court battles appear to count for nothing when the legal challenge by the Catholic Church’s HERALD died prematurely in the Federal Court, with many crucial questions about the protection of the constitutional rights of minorities still unanswered by the country’s highest court.

True, we have Putrajaya’s past declaration and assurance in 2013 that the HERALD ruling is confined to the paper and will not affect Sabah and Sarawak — where many of the BM-speaking Bumiputera Christians of the roughly 2.6 million-strong local Christian population lives.

But questions arise over the weight of such statements when seizures of Bibles and Christian materials with the word ‘Allah’ — yes, even those bound for Christians in Sabah and Sarawak — continue to happen.

And is the constitutional right to practise one’s religion — including continuing to call God ‘Allah’ — only for Sabah and Sarawak? Is it only for the Bumiputera Christians there? What about the Bumiputera Christians from East Malaysia who now study, live and work in Peninsular Malaysia?

What about the Orang Asli community originating from Peninsular Malaysia? Are these two groups to have lesser rights? What about the Sikhs then, whose holy scriptures also contain the word ‘Allah’?

Remember, the Federal Constitution is for all Malaysians and it trumps all state laws and decisions by public authorities.

Source: The Malay Mail Online

Total Comments:0