THE ALLAH CONTROVERSY series...
(in chronological descending order)
1. Be Strong and Courageous
2. The Allah Issue: Round 2
3. The Allah Debate: Moderating Principles
4. The Debate: Allah or Are There Alternatives?
5. Names of God in the Bible
6. A Brief Survey of Views Expressed in the Allah Controversy
7. Testing Times
BE STRONG & COURAGEOUS
There was no Round 3. The 4-3 majority decision of the Federal Court last June 23 not to grant leave to the Catholic Church to appeal the Court of Appeals decision in the Herald case on the Kalimah Allah controversy effectively put to bed any opportunity to further ventilate, at the highest judicial level, the constitutional issues surrounding the right of freedom to express and practise ones professed religion. The decision does not resolve at all the uncertainty behind the use of the word Allah amongst the various religious communities in the country. Ostensibly, the decision is limited to the Herald. Yet, there is every fear that it will be far more wide-reaching. In the words of one of the dissenting judges, Justice Richard Malanjum, the decision of the Court of Appeal seems to sanction a sweeping, general prohibition against the use of the word Allah by all non-Muslims in all forms on all occasions.1
As disappointing as the Federal Court’s decision is, there is a note of consolation though. Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria, who delivered the majority decision, finds that the Home Minister in coming to his decision to ban the Herald from using the word ‘Allah’ did not premise his decision on ‘theological consideration’. “Therefore, the views expressed by Court of Appeal judges on those issues are mere obiter,”2 declares the Chief Justice. What this means is that the Court of Appeal’s statement that “the name ‘Allah’ is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity” is not ratio, and thus, not binding, on lower courts.
This seems to be borne out in a subsequent ruling in the High Court (Appellate and Special Powers) on July 21, in which the presiding judge, Justice Zaleha Yusof ordered the Home Ministry to return 8 compact discs to clerk Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, a Melanau Christian. The 8 CDs purportedly containing the word ‘Allah’ were seized by a customs officer at the LCCT customs checkpoint in 2008. The ruling is significant because the same judge had relied on the very same CA’s statement in an earlier ruling in May to deny the Sidang Injil Borneo’s bid for leave for a judicial review of the seizure of four titles of its publications at the same customs checkpoint in 2007.
No doubt, ‘race and religion’ is a (if not the) primary factor throughout the course of the controversy. Unfortunately, when and where it matters there is a lack of will and courage amongst those in positions of power and influence to rise above this partisan factor and to provide an even keel to the discourse of the issues surrounding the controversy.
However, it is comforting to note that there is a vocal group of academicians, social activists and columnists who dare and are willing to be different and who have lent credibility to the word ‘fair-minded’ with their forthright views on the controversy.
In the remaining space, we shall pick here and there from the writings of three columnists in The Star paper.
The first is that of Karim Raslan in “What’s in a Word?”, which first appeared in The Star on July 1, 2014:
The dispute over “Allah” is far from over and it is doing Malaysia no favours.
Perhaps some “greater good” is being served but I fail to see what it is.
All that is apparent is that our leaders are taking us down a dangerous path.
Muslims - as all people of faith - must always strive for justice and fairness.
With respect to the bench, the Federal Court’s ruling has provided for neither.
We are still looking for leaders with courage, wisdom and good sense.3
The second comes from Shad Saleem Faruqi, “A Leap into Antiquity”, June 26, 2014:
The Federal Court has missed an opportunity to clarify and correct some
Some of us were hoping fervently that our apex court would seize this
opportunity to clarify the ambit of the Court of Appeal’s broadly worded decision
and correct some regressive and gravely disturbing rulings of the Court of Appeal
on issues of constitutional and administrative law.
Despite some very cogent and compelling grounds (10 administrative law
questions, 13 constitutional issues and five general questions), four out of
seven Justices refused leave to appeal.
Judicial decisions must be independent of the political winds that are blowing and
must not take on the colouration of whatever may be popular at the moment.
Now and then, judges must tell people what they do not like to hear.4
The third is Azmi Sharom, “Thugs Allowed to Set the Agenda”, June 25, 2014:
This place [Malaysia, this writer’s] is my home because I grew up here.
My memories and therefore my identity are tied up to this place.
But what kind of place is it now? It looks to me like the kind of place where the
vicious can threaten to behead people, where those who are meant to be the
final arbiters are unwilling or incapable of making judgments based on the
principles they have sworn to uphold.
It is a place where the cowardly leaders think only of their votes and not of making
a stand against vile people and their vile deeds.5
Troublesome times may lurk ahead. The wolves have scented blood and they may go for the jugular. But for the sake of the nation and for everyone concerned, we can pray and hope that this is only a false projection of the trajectory, that the ‘vicious’ and the ‘vile’ can be contained and that those in high positions will uphold the notions of justice, equality and fair-play.
Until the promise of that day dawns, we need to remain vigilant, to be strong and courageous, and above all, to be true to the teachings of our Lord Jesus. One of it is: “Do for others what you want them to do for you” (Mt. 7:12, TEV).
1http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2014/06/24/Apex-court-says-no-to-church-Bid-to-challenge-ban-on-use-of-Allah-rejected-in-43-majority-decision/, accessed on 14 July 2014.
3http://www.thestar.com.my/Opinion/Columnists/Ceritalah/Profile/Articles/2014/07/01/Whats-in-a-word/, accessed 14 July 2014.
4http://www.thestar.com.my/Opinion/Columnists/Reflecting-On-The-Law/Profile/Articles/2014/06/26/A-leap-into-antiquity/, accessed on 14 July 2014.
5http://www.thestar.com.my/Opinion/Columnists/Brave-New-World/Profile/Articles/2014/06/25/Thugs-allowed-to-set-agenda/, accessed on 14 July 2014.