Federal Court’s ‘Allah’ decision defies common good

Justice is not based on subjective ideology or sensitive emotions but rather on what is due to the people, says Ronald Benjamin.

Allah controversry protest

Groups linked to Selangor Umno protest against the use of the word Allah by Christians – Photograph: themalaymailonline.com

The Federal Court’s dismissal of the Catholic Church’s application to appeal the ban over the use of the word Allah has created a dark scenario for the future of the country.

It is truly frightening because it has violated the very foundation of a just society, which is to uphold the common good of all citizens as enshrined in the Malaysian constitution.

The balance where Islam is the official religion of the federation while other faiths are practised in peace, has been overtaken by the over-zealousness of a group purporting to represent the majority. A decision that favours the common good of Malaysian citizens would have taken into consideration the complexity of a society that is made up of various cultures and creeds; where the different forms of spiritual expression are regarded as contributing towards human dignity because they comefrom the depth of the human heart.

The Malaysian Constitution is a common platform for our human dignity where what is due is given to each community. It allows the common aspirations that unite a society such as truth, justice and brotherhood to take precedence over ethno-religious identity, which is only part of the constitution.

Some would argue that a sense of balance has emerged through the decision of the Federal Court: Sabah and Sarawak Christians would still be allowed to use the word Allah in their worship while it isprohibited in the peninsular due to Muslim sensitivities. But this does not make sense because justice is not based on subjective ideology or sensitive emotions but rather on what is due. Moreover, there is a significant number of Sabahans and Sarawakians working and residing in Peninsular Malaysia.

It is sad that the Federal Court has shown it lacks the courage and the intellectual capability to deal with complex administrative and legal questions posed by the Catholic Church, which in the process could have addressed some constitutional issues.

The four judges could have played a significant role in getting the nation back to its basics and striking a balance. This would have also helped educate the politically inclined to see the constitution as a whole rather than picking and choosing provisions that serve vested political interests. Various unanswered questions related to the common good have emerged from the decision of the four federal court judges.

Is Justice in Malaysia, especially on religious related issues, subservient to the subjective views of the Malay-Muslim majority rather than the needs of every Malaysian citizen based on the universal values of coexistence?

Is the Islam practised in this country based on a particularistic, legal conception of Islam or is it based on truth, justice and freedom?

Should a word in a particular religion’s scripture, that has been used for centuries by Christian natives, be replaced just because certain insecure religious fanatics are uncomfortable with it and threaten to create chaos because of it?

Should a community be denied justice just because there is a possibility that aanother segment of society might turn violent?

Should a court deliver a decision that has far reaching consequences, based on mere suspicion, without concrete proof, that the word Allah may have been used by another religion to convert Muslims?

All these critical questions have been usurped and hidden under a carpet by of an extremist religious ideology in this country – whose elites’ understanding of the constitution is merely to assert the supremacy of Islam rather than the common good. It is obvious that the Federal Court’s decision reinforces this ideology.

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  1. The “Allah” ban in Malaysia is unique in the Muslim world. The Arabic word is commonly used by Christians to describe God in such countries as Egypt, Syria and even nearby Indonesia, which is the world’s world’s largest Muslim nation.

    The Aramaic word that Jesus (peace be on him) used for God is “Elaha” and one of the Hebrew words for God is “Eloah”. Today, there are about 12 million Arabic-speaking Christians. They and their ancestors have been calling God “Allah” in their Bibles, hymns, poems, writings, and worship for over nineteen centuries.

    Allah himself, through the revelation given to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) plainly declares that Allah is the God of Muslims, Christians and Jews. The Roman Catholic Church has for over a thousand years declared through its Popes and its official documents that Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same God.

    Even Malaysia’s radical Islamist political party PAS has said that the use of “Allah” is permitted among people of the three Abrahamic faiths. PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang made the statement in supporting an earlier court decision that allowed the Christian weekly newsletter The Herald to use the word.

    In Islam’s early days, a delegation of Christians, accompanied by their bishop, came from Mecca’s neighbouring province of Narjan to discuss a treaty with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him). He allowed the group to say their Christian prayers in his own mosque.

    Furthermore, we also know that some of the Prophet’s companions and some other early Muslims, who were very faithful to the Prophet’s teachings, sometimes prayed in Christian churches when they were not able to go to a mosque.

    It appears that the current Malaysian government is promoting this false debate in order to stir up ethic strife. To do so, Muslim government officials are willing to ignore the plain teaching of Allah himself, who said:

    “Those who believe in the Qur’an, and those who follow the Jewish scriptures, and the Christians–all who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”(Qur’an 2:62)

    wa allahu alim