KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31
It will be a glorious new year for some 850,000 Catholics in Malaysia.
In a landmark ruling today, the High Court here lifted the home minister’s ban against the Catholic church publishing the word “Allah” to refer to the Christian God in its weekly paper, Herald.
Counsel for the Herald, Porres Royan, told reporters, “The court has granted the declaration that the applicant has the Constitutional right to use the word Allah. I believe the ministry is bound by the court’s decision.”
Royan’s fellow lawyer for the church, Benjamin Dawson, explained the impact of today’s judgment in greater detail to the press.
“There are two points to today’s order. Firstly, the court set aside the decision of the minister in imposing the prohibition on using the word ‘Allah’ in Herald.
“The second part of the order made by the court declares the width and breadth of the constitutional provisions, namely Articles 3, 11 and 12 and ruled that in light of these constitutional guarantees, the minister had acted unconstitutionally in imposing such conditions,” Dawson said.
Article 3 of the Federal Constitution states that Islam is the official religion of the country but taken together with Articles 11 and 12, protects the rights of the minorities to be free to practice and be educated in their respective religions.
In short, the Herald does not need to go to court every year to fight for the right to publish the word “Allah”. The publishing permit for the Herald expires today.
Senior Federal counsel Datuk Kamaludin Md Said said, “I was made to understand the ministry has already issued the permit for 2010.”
He added that he will consult the ministry for new instruction, when asked about his next course of action.
The government had said that the ban was necessary to avoid confusing the majority Muslims in the country. Islam is the official religion in Malaysia.
But the church claimed the ban violates its constitutional rights to practice its religion freely.
According to Father Lawrence Andrew (picture) who edits Herald, the term “Allah” has been used by Christians in the region to refer to their God since four hundred years ago. He added that it is still actively used today.
Lawrence explained that “Allah” in the Christian context refers specifically to “God the Father”, which is different from how Muslims use it.
Herald’s editor claims the use of the word has not died out and is still being used in church worship among indigenous East Malaysians, who form a substantial number of the Christian faithful in the country.
According to the last census last carried out in Sarawak three years ago, 43 per cent of its population is Christian. In Sabah, the figure is close to 2.45 million, based on the state’s last census in 2000.
But Fr Lawrence believes the official figures may not be accurate. He thinks the number of Christians in East Malaysia are higher, especially in Sarawak, which he puts the Christian community to be about half the state’s population.
The church first took the government to court last year after the home ministry threatened to revoke its annual publishing permit for Herald, Malaysia’s only Catholic paper.
It was forced to refresh its suit again this year after its 2008 permit expired without any decision from the court.
While today’s judgment may renew the faith of Christians nationwide, Dawson cautioned that there was still a long way to go to fully restore the faith of other Malaysians in the country’s justice system.
“We’re grateful for the court’s decision today. At the same time, we’re disappointed with the lack of political will on the part of the government to deal with issues of this nature,” Dawson told The Malaysian Insider.
“In recent years, people from minority religions were forced to go to court to protect their constitutional rights,” he pointed out, listing several religious conversion and burial tussles, such as the Lina Joy, Subashini, Shamala and Moorthy cases as examples.
“How do we promote religious unity in our country?” he quizzed. “Surely not by going to court.”
Dawson pressed the government to set up an inter-faith commission to resolve inter-religious disputes.
“We can’t continue to live at odds with each other,” Dawson stressed.
UMNO Responses to Court Decision - Its Real Colour Prevails
One of Umno’s known hawks, Pasir Salak MP Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, lambasted the High Court judgment on the ‘Allah’ case today, saying that it would not solve anything but only ignite racial and religious tension.
The High Court today lifted the home minister’s ban against the Catholic church from publishing the word “Allah” to refer to the Christian God in its weekly paper, Herald.
The landmark decision may be of joy for some 850,000 Catholics in the country but for Tajuddin, the suit itself, filed by Herald’s lawyers, is an act of provocation.
“What is their motive (for the suit) ? Why all of a sudden they want to use the word Allah when all this while they have been using the term God?
“This is definitely provocation, they are just using all this human rights, religious rights as excuses. This is sensitive to the Muslims and this will create racial and religious tension,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
The controversy over the word “Allah” has stirred huge debate among Christians and Muslims alike in Malaysia and attracted international attention as well.
The Home Minister, who controls giving the annual mandatory publishing permits in the country, had banned the church from using the word “Allah” outside the Muslim context.
Let all Malaysians judge this racist party. They instigate the people to react against court decision. But I am not surprise that court of appeal will turn around the High Court decision in first week of this new year. To catholic Heralds be prepared..your fight is not end yet!...Bukittunggal
But some have questioned if there can be a copyright over the word “Allah”, which Muslim representatives here say is a special word reserved to refer to the Muslim God, meaning “the one and only Almighty”.The act of questioning the exclusivity of the word “Allah” for Muslims said Tajuddin is a clear indicator that “certain quarters” have become “bolder”.
“They have dared to do these things because the Muslims have been soft..but if you put some one in a corner, they will bounce back,” lamented the Pasir Salak MP.
“What the High Court thinks is right, may not necessarily be right outside (the court),” he added.
Meanwhile PAS vice-president Datuk Mahfuz Omar said Muslims must respect the decision of the High Court and remain calm.
“We must not be hasty and jump to conclusions. We should let the religious authorities to decide on its next course of action,” he said.
Asked if he agreed with the decision, Mahfuz ignored the question and reiterated that the country’s Muslims must respect the High Court decision and allow the religious authority to decide on its next course of action.
Though it is unclear if the Home Minister will seek to reverse the decision through the Appellate Court but he is likely to do so given the sensitivity of the issue.
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