Thursday, September 12, 2013

Putting God on trial

Jeswan Kaur

September 12, 2013
How does BN expect national security to remain intact when it decided to put God on trial, literally, creating psychological unrest for Malaysians irrespective of their religious beliefs?
The Catholic Church hopes its prayers go answered next month when the Court of Appeal decides whether weekly publication Herald has legal ‘blessings’ to continue using the word ‘Allah’.
The Herald, a weekly publication of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, is published in four languages and has been using the word ‘Allah’ as a translation for God in its Bahasa Malaysia-language section, catering to East Malaysians in the peninsula, since September 1995, but the government argued that ‘Allah’ should be used exclusively by Muslims.
The Herald filed a suit against the Malaysian government in December 2007 after the government threatened to revoke its printing permit if it continued to use the word ‘Allah’ in the Malay section of the newspaper.
Although it was the Catholic Church that brought the suit against the government, other Christians and even the Sikh community came out in support saying that the word ‘Allah’ should not be exclusively for Muslims, pointing out its long usage in Malaysia and other countries.
The then Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar signed an order prohibiting the Herald from using the word ‘Allah’ in its publication.
But the High Court in 2009 allowed the Catholic Church to use the word ‘Allah’ in the Malay edition of the Herald, which prompted an appeal from the government.
All out to end the Herald’s use of the word ‘Allah’, the government is clinging to the defence that the Home Minister banned the use of the word Allah in the Catholic Church’s weekly publication on the grounds of national security and public order.
Putrajaya’s lawyer Suzana Atan told the Court of Appeal two days ago that the prohibition was ordered as it touched on Islamic religious sensitivity.
“In this country, Allah is a sensitive word,” she said.
How does uttering ‘Allah’ by the non-Muslims threatens national security unless flames of racial tension are already being stoked by certain quarters?
Trying hard to reverse the 2009 High Court order that was in favour of the church, Suzana told the Court of Appeal that the ban was actually a pre-emptive measure by the minister as the word caused a lot of confusion among Muslims and Christians as it had a different meaning to both religious groups.
“The Christians believe in the Holy Trinity while for Muslims, Allah is the only God,” she said.
Until then, it is wait and see whether justice prevails next month when the Court of Appeal comprising three Muslim judges deliver the verdict in this long-standing battle that sees the BN government all out to deny the Catholic church and other non-Muslims their right to use the word ‘Allah’.
BN hijacking national unity
While the Court of Appeal heard submissions pertaining to the ‘Allah’ issue, the ultra-Malay wing Perkasa led by its founder Ibrahim Ali sang religious songs and waved banners with cries of ‘Hormat Islam’ (respect Islam) and ‘Takbir Allah’ (God is Great).
Both Perkasa and Perkida supporters also wore T-shirts bearing the words ‘Allah: Just for Muslims. Fight No Fear’.
Perkasa vice-president Zulkifli Noordin also joined the fray, urging Muslims to defend their religion.
How does BN expect national security to remain intact when it decided to put God on trial, literally, creating psychological unrest for Malaysians irrespective of their religious beliefs?
Lawyer Suzana tried to convince the Court of Appeal as to why the government was right in its move to ban the use of the word ‘Allah’ by the Herald, saying it was to protect national security and prevent chaos.
But then when groups like Perkasa utter damning words against non-Muslims and threaten them with bloodshed should the latter touch on issues pertaining to Islam, why does the BN government not see this form of harassment as a threat to the country’s peace and harmony?
Why does BN continue to afford politicians like Ibrahim one too many opportunities to denigrate the non-Muslims of this country?
Is it therefore wrong to deduce that both BN or more precisely its dominant arm Umno and Perkasa harbour the same dream, that of turning Malaysia into a single-race nation?
Najib was never sincere
Lawyer Porres Royen, representing the church, had said it was illogical to ban the Catholic newspaper, the Herald, from using the word ‘Allah’ when the government had allowed shipments of Malay-language bibles containing the word in 2011.
Royen added that the Cabinet decision on the 10-point solution in 2011 had implied that the Christian community could use the word ‘Allah’.
“The word can be used in Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and native languages of Sabahans and Sarawakians.”
Royen also pointed out that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak had written a letter to the Christian Federation of Malaysia, the umbrella body of the religion, about the Cabinet’s stand.
“As such, the decision of the executive, who is a member of the Cabinet, superseded the stand of the home minister.
“Based on the current position of the government and the minister it was no longer necessary for the Court of Appeal to deliberate on the appeal.
“It would be an exercise in futility with no practical benefit to the government and the minister who has taken a decision consistent with the High Court ruling,” Royen had said.
If the federal government had already made up its mind to deprive the church and other non-Muslims from exercising their right to use the word ‘Allah’, what then was the purpose of Najib’s 10-point solution? Or for that matter, why pen a letter to the Christian Federation of Malaysia informing them of the Cabinet’s stand?
Looks like the premier is not interested in solving the the ‘Allah’ row and is the least concerned about the sentiments of the people, in this case the non-Muslims who are now being told to lay off from using the word ‘Allah’.
It is a irony that while Najib preaches about safeguarding national unity, it his leadership that is hijacking efforts to sustain peace and harmony between Malaysians of diverse faiths.
Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.
~ Free Malaysia Today

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