1 JULY 2014
Over week ago, the majority judges of the Federal Court dealt the non-Muslim population of this country a devastating blow by handing down a political decision to refuse the Catholic church leave to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision that banned the use of the word ‘Allah’ by Christians. My disappointment in the majority judges is beyond words; that they would chose the politically expedient path rather than the path of justice and fairness sends a deeply troubling message to Malaysians, especially those of us in the Borneo states. What is left for us when the last bastion of our protection shuts its doors in our faces?
As a lawyer, it was obvious to me that this case merited an appeal to the Federal court as it involved a novel issue which could impact public policy, and thus needed to be given proper substantive hearing and considered deliberation by a panel of fair-minded judges. By refusing leave, the highest court of the land has not only let us down, but it has also succeeded in lowering the estimation of the Malaysian judiciary in the eyes of many.
In the wake of the Federal Court’s decision, the UMNO apologists have again parroted their meaningless assurances that the decision will not affect Sarawakians and Sabahans, while an emboldened MAIS/JAIS have declared their intention to continue seizing our Bahasa Malaysia bibles.
Let me state again that the Court of Appeal’s decision now stands as a legal precedent, no matter what assurances are given to try to placate Sarawakians and non-Muslims. Does the declaration by the emboldened MAIS/JAIS that they will continue to seize our bibles not affect Sarawakians and Sabahans? Are the Ministers still going to tell us the decision is confined to the Herald? Can they not see the falsity of their words? The court has effectively criminalized the practice of their religion by the Malay-speaking Christians of this country and opened up the way for persecution of Christians by the ultra Muslims and the Islamic authorities. Of what use is the 10-point solution now?
I do appreciate the words of our Chief Minister that ‘this will not be a problem for us’, and I commend him for speaking up for Sarawakians. I believe he is sincere in his intention to keep his word as long as he is the Chief Minister. But I remain unconvinced that Sarawakians are unaffected. There have been incidences in Sarawak, such as the hold-up of the Al-Kitab at Kuching Ports in 2008 and 2011, and the raids carried out in Christian bookshops in Sarawak by the Islamic authorities. Yes, I know these happened before Tan Sri Adenan became the Chief Minister. But it happened even when there is no state law in Sarawak that prohibits the use of such words unlike in other States in Malaysia. The Chief Minister may have the best of intentions, making clear his personal stand, but let us not forget that the Agong is the head of Islam in Sabah and Sarawak by virtue of Article 4A of the Sarawak Constitution. The members of Majlis Islam Sarawak and their administrative arm Jabatan Agama Islam Sarawak (JAIS) are appointed by the Agong and are therefore answerable to the Agong, and not the Chief Minister. As stated in section 3 of the Majlis Islam Sarawak Ordinance 2001, the Majlis is set up to ‘aid and advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in matters relating to Islam in the State, …’. The members of the Majlis are appointed by the Agong on the recommendation of the Governor (section 11) and the power to revoke appointments vests in the Agong (section 13). The Chief Minister appears to have no say in the affairs of the Majlis and JAIS.
JAKIM, which has branches in Sarawak, is a unit under the Prime Minister’s Department, and presumably, they are answerable to the Prime Minister and not to our Chief Minister.
Sarawakians should bear in mind the fact that the Agong had said in his birthday speech in January this year that several words including the word ‘Allah’ were the exclusive rights of Muslims. Whether he said this in his capacity as the Sultan of Kedah or the Agong is irrelevant. What is relevant is the fact that he is the head of Islam in Sarawak.
In view of the uncertainty of this matter, I wish to seek clarification from the Chief Minister as to whether JAIS and JAKIM in Sarawak need to seek his approval for any action they may wish to take which may infringe on the rights of non-Muslims in Sarawak. If the Agong as head of Islam in Sarawak decrees that Christians are prohibited from using certain words, whose words would prevail, the Chief Minister’s or the Agong’s? At the same time, I would like the Sarawak Majlis Islam, JAIS and JAKIM heads to make a stand on this issue. Will they back up the Chief Minister’s statement that Christians are free to use the word ‘Allah’ in Sarawak? Will they agree to leave us to read our Al Kitab in peace?
Sarawakian voters must also think hard about our position in this federation as we approach the next state elections and GE14. Sarawakians of all races and religions have been the greatest supporters of the BN over the past decades but have not received commensurate support from the BN government. The 10-point solution offered to us before GE13 is clearly not worth the paper it was printed on.
This political decision of the Federal court leaves us with little choice but to find a political solution to this farcical situation. To my mind, the only solution is a change of the current Government, which has failed dismally to protect the rights of Malaysians as enshrined in our Constitution.
ADUN N70 BA’ KELALAN