Monday, December 15, 2014

Allah issue: Only one law, no exception for Sabah, Sarawak


15/12/2014 - 09:30      

Aziz Bari

OUTSPOKEN: In an immediate response to the controversial court decision on the Allah issue, Sarawak PKR leader Baru Bian said that the implications of the decision would be far-reaching.
The PKR man said it would go beyond the Catholic newspaper Herald and it would also extend to Sabah and Sarawak, whatever the federal government had to say. True enough the more recent happenings have confirmed what Baru Bian had predicted.
The assemblyman for Ba’kelalan from Sarawak was indeed telling us the law. He may be a politician but do not forget that Baru is a lawyer and what he said was right. I have said in this space some weeks ago that the basic law of this nation is to be found in the constitution.
And the constitution, as expounded by the Federal Court decision, said that Allah is only for Muslims. The constitution is the supreme law for the land and it applies to all; including Sabah and Sarawak. No one, even parliament let alone the government, has the power to incapacitate the constitution.
The decision of the highest court on the Allah issue may not be right, both from the Islamic and Christian point of views. Nonetheless this is the law as it stands. Until and unless the court reverses the existing decision this is the law that governs the issue.
In the face of this piece of law, the 10-point solution, an executive policy, has no value. It is just a gimmick bandied about by the Najib administration.
Given the existing law the civil servants – namely immigration and customs officers – have no choice but to enforce the law as it stands. And it was wrong, as I have said earlier, for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to blame them: the civil servants are just putting the law into effect.
The PM should know why the law has been so restrictive to the Christians. For one thing it was Najib himself who set the process to change the law which originally ruled that it was fine for the Christians to use the name Allah.
I am not saying that the judges received orders from the Office of the Prime Minister. However no one would believe that judges in Malaysia are as independent as their counterparts on say, the American Supreme Court benches.
Be that as it may, what was predicted by Baru Bian has been taking place for the past few weeks. For example earlier this month the Sarawak-based Borneo Evangelical Mission or the Sidang Injil Borneo made an impassioned plea to Najib for the right to use the name Allah throughout the country.
Apparently given the circumstances such is the only avenue open to them. But what is crucial here is that the application of the law – namely that the name of Allah can only be used by Muslims – knows no boundaries. Otherwise the Sarawak mission would not have made that impassioned plea to the federal government.
And the matter seems to have gotten worse. It was reported on Dec 2 that the police disrupted a church service in Bangi earlier this month. Curiously enough, the church goers were mainly Indonesians. It was not known if the problem relates to the use of Allah but the service was conducted in the Malay language.
What was perplexing was that it was the police who was in the forefront, instead of the local council. This was raised as there were issues of noise as well as the use of a shophouse as a church.
Whatever the truth, it is quite apparent that there is another angle to the problem: some Christians from Sabah and Sarawak reside in the peninsular and they pray in the manner they do back home. Added to this is the fact that some of the Christians here in the country are foreign workers from Indonesia and all of them, despite being non-citizens, have the right to religious freedom granted by the constitution.
But the court decision, following Najib’s appeal, has narrowed it down. From a certain perspective the court has even taken the right away; something which, according to the Sarawak-based evangelical mission, was “the most important thing in our lives”.
It has often been said that one of the weirdest characters of the law is that once it is created it will have its own life, independent of even its creator. This appears to be something that the Najib administration is going to live with, as far as the prohibition on the use of Allah is concerned.
The Allah law is applicable throughout Malaysia and there is nothing that the government can do about it.
Dr Abdul Aziz Bari is formerly IIUM law professor who now teaches at Unisel. He is also Senior Fellow at independent think tank IDEAS and state-owned Penang Institute.
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