Friday, November 8, 2013

‘Allah’ ruling will impact Christians in east Malaysia, Sarawak lawyer group says

November 8, 2013

Members of Perkasa and other Muslim NGOs outside the Court of Appeal, September 10, 2013. — Picture by Choo Choy MayMembers of Perkasa and other Muslim NGOs outside the Court of Appeal, September 10, 2013. — Picture by Choo Choy MayKUALA LUMPUR, Nov 8 — The Advocates' Association of Sarawak (AAS) has offered to hold a watching brief or step in as an amiscus curae should the “Allah” case reach the Federal Court, citing concerns that last month's ruling on the case would impact Christians in east Malaysia.
In a statement here AAS president Khairil Azmi Mohamad Hasbie said the association had remain unconvinced that the Court of Appeal's ruling on the matter would only be confined to the Malay version of Catholic weekly The Herald.
This, he said, was despite the repeated assurances from federal administrators, including the prime minister.
“The common finding of the Court of Appeal that the name 'Allah' is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity and that such usage if allowed will inevitably cause confusion within the community, is not stated to be confined to the Christian community in West Malaysia only,” he said.
“The association is of the view that it may be interpreted to apply throughout Malaysia.”
That being the case, Khairil said AAS was particularly concerned that provisions on religious freedom in the Borneo states as enshrined in the Report of the Inter-Governmental Committee 1962 had not been brought to the attention of the appellate court during the hearing last month.
“The Central Committee of the Association, in line with its object to protect and assist the public in Sarawak in all matters touching or ancillary or incidental to the law, may decide to hold a watching brief or act as amicus curae during the hearing of the Herald case, if it goes on appeal to the Federal Court,” he said.
An amicus curae, also known as a “friend of the court”, is a party who is not directly involved in a case but who offers information relevant to the case that has not been solicited by any of the involved parties.
Last month, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Home Ministry’s decision to ban the use of the word in the Herald was justified, saying the use of the word “Allah” was not integral to the practice of the Christian faith.
The ruling - which overturned an earlier High Court decision that the ban was unconstitutional - has since sparked confusion over the use of the Middle Eastern word by Christians in their worship, especially with conflicting opinions within the government itself on how far the ruling would affect practising Christians.
Churches in Sabah and Sarawak have said that they will continue their age-old practice of referring to God as “Allah” in their worship and in their holy scriptures.
Several ministers have said that the Court of Appeal's ruling was restricted to the Herald and would not affect the Christians in Sabah and Sarawak.
They have also said recently that the 10-point solution issued by Putrajaya in 2011 - which allows the printing, importation and distribution of the Al-Kitab, the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Christian bible, containing the word “Allah” - should stand, despite the appellate court ruling.
The Najib administration issued the 10-point solution shortly before the Sarawak state election in 2011 to end a Home Ministry blockade of shipments of Christian holy scriptures in the Malay language containing the word “Allah”.
The Cabinet, through Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jala, had stated in the resolution that the large Bumiputera Christian population in Sabah and Sarawak could use their holy books in the Malay, Indonesian, and indigenous languages.
Datuk Seri Panglima Dr Maximus Ongkili, the energy, green technology and water minister, said recently that the Court of Appeal's verdict should, “in no way”, affect the 10-point solution.
Minister in The Prime Minister's Department Tan Sri Joseph Kurup also reportedly said recently that the Cabinet has decided to stick to the 10-point solution.
Deputy Home Minister Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar and de facto law minister Nancy Shukri have said that the court ruling was restricted to the Herald.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak also said previously that the ruling would not affect Sabah and Sarawak, while separately another Cabinet minister claimed that Christians from the Borneo states could also use the word in peninsula Malaysia.
They were silent, however, on whether the Herald ruling meant the publication could be distributed in Sabah and Sarawak.
According to a 2010 census, Muslims are Malaysia’s largest religious group, followed by Buddhists. Christians are the third-largest at 2.6 million, which comes up to about 10 per cent of the entire Malaysian population.
Bumiputera Christians, who form about 64 per cent or close to two-thirds of the Christian community in Malaysia, have used the word “Allah” when praying and speaking in the national language and their native tongues for centuries. 
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