14 OCTOBER 2013
I am shocked and disappointed that the Court of Appeal has come to such an illogical and preposterous decision, ignoring the historical facts which pre-date Malaysia and the rights to religious freedom of our people under the Malaysia Agreement 1963.
As was pointed out by Archbishop Bolly Lapok last week, the rights of Sarawakians and Sabahans were promised protection in the Government Paper “Malaysia and Sarawak”, dated January 4, 1962 which states: “Although Malaysia would have Islam as the official religion of the enlarged Federation, there would be no hindrance placed on the practice of other religions. Complete freedom of religion would be guaranteed in the Federal Constitution”. This decision of the Court of Appeal is a betrayal of the undertaking given to our forefathers when they agreed to join in the formation of Malaysia.
Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, the supreme law of the Federation, guarantees that every person is allowed to profess his or her religion in peace and harmony. This includes the freedom and right to propagate and practice subject to the sanction against preaching to Muslims if provided for under the state enactments or ordinances. The use of the word ‘Allah’ is an intrinsic part and parcel of the practice of Christians and disallowing the use of ‘Allah’ is clearly a fundamental breach of our Constitutional rights. I am aware that this decision is against The Herald magazine, but in our legal system it is now a legal precedent for any similar case anywhere in Malaysia.
For the Court of Appeal judges to say that the use of the word ‘Allah’ is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christians is going against established known facts. It was a factual finding of Justice Lau Bee Lan in the court of first instance that the word ‘Allah’ is widely used among Malay-speaking Christians of West Malaysia and those of Sabah and Sarawak, even before the independence of Malaya and the formation of Malaysia.
Notwithstanding what has been decided by the court, Christians in Sabah and Sarawak will continue to use the word in exercise of their rights. It is clear that the court, while showing great concern that the Muslims might be confused by the use of the word ‘Allah’ by Christians, has no similar concern that the Christians might be confused by the ban on the use of a word they have been using for as long as anyone can remember. By this decision, the court has criminalized the practice of the Christians of Malaysia, and has opened up the way for persecution of Christians by the ultra Muslims whilst a cowed and silent government watches passively. It appears that we are on the road to Ketuanan Islam in Malaysia.
I wish to also point out that by this irrational decision, Malaysia has become the only country in the Muslim world which purports to claim ownership and copyright of a word. Indonesia, which has the biggest Muslim population in the world, and the Muslim countries of the Middle East do not have any issue with their Christian citizens’ use of the word ‘Allah’. What message is this decision sending to these countries?
Let it not be forgotten that this situation has come about by the action of the Home Minister and the government who imposed the ban* and then appealed the High Court’s decision. Their actions reflect the hypocrisy of the Barisan National government. On the one hand offering a 10-point solution and trumpeting the joys of 1Malaysia, and on the other, showing their total disregard for the constitutional rights of Malaysian Christians. I am glad that Tan Sri James Masing has spoken out against the judgment and I hope all other Christian BN ministers, assemblymen and women and parliamentarians will follow suit.
Finally, let me say that this repugnant and oppressive decision of the Court of Appeal today confirms the fears of our forefathers and gives justification to the voice of the 60% who were against joining in the formation of Malaysia in 1963. As one example, in the Cobbold Commission Report, mention is made of the Muruts (now called the Lun Bawangs): ‘A large proportion of the Muruts in Sarawak are fervent Evangelical Christians and emphasis was laid on the importance not only of freedom of worship but of freedom to propagate their faith.’ I believe this was also true of many other Christian denominations then as reflected in the said report. The people of Sarawak are getting very close to, if they have not yet reached, “the sour end of that sugarcane” which was in the mind of the late Temenggong Jugah anak Barieng during negotiations for the formation of Malaysia. Today, not only is the end of the sugarcane sour, it also leaves a bitter taste in our mouths.
ADUN N70 BA’ KELALAN
* amended to correct an error - 'imposed the ban' incorrectly read 'filed the suit' in the original.