Bob Teoh’s New Year’s Wish: Leave Allah Alone

December 29, 2012

Bob Teoh’s New Year’s Wish: Leave Allah Alone

COMMENT: Time flies and we are already at the doorstep of 2013. But time has stood still for three long years since December 31, 2009 at the gates of justice. It was on that New Year’s Eve that the Judiciary gave a flicker of hope for fundamental liberties when a landmark judgment ruled in favour of the Herald, the Catholic weekly.

But the Attorney-General Gani Patail fought back and appealed against the decision. The Court of Appeal has not set a hearing date nor is it likely to do so with any urgency. Justice obtained in one of His Majesty’s courts is denied by another one higher up through undue judicial delays.

NONEMy New Year wish is that the Attorney-General will do the sensible thing by withdrawing the appeal and let the High Court judgment stand. In doing so, one of the most fundamental civil liberties guaranteed by our Federal Constitution will be restored. So too will our confidence in constitutionalism.

Three years ago, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled in favour of the titular Roman Catholic archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, who is the publisher of Herald, that even though Islam is the religion of the federation, this does not empower the government to prohibit the use of the word ‘Allah’ in the Malay edition of the Herald. It also found that the word ‘Allah’ was not exclusive to Muslims.

The Catholics won but the victory clearly belonged to all Malaysians because the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion – the right to profess, practise, and propagate one’s faith – was bravely upheld by the Judiciary. This is not about religion but about fundamental liberty.

The Herald case goes back a long way to the days of the now defunct Internal Security Act 1960 and the old Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. Under the Najib administration, the ruling coalition tried making good its promise of opening up public space by reforming some of the draconian laws.

The ISA was repealed and replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 last April while the PPPA was also amended earlier this year where renewal of annual publishing licences are done away with, among other things.

The restriction on ‘Allah’

But ‘Allah’ remains more than just a word. In 1980, the UMNO-led Terengganu government became the first Malay state to enact laws to control or restrict the propagation of other religions among Muslims. It decreed a list of 25 Arabic words and 10 phrases that are deemed exclusive only to Islam. One of these words is ‘Allah’. This was done under the Hussein Onn administration.

Other states, including non-Malay majority states, followed suit and issued their own fatwas on usage of Arabic words and legislated them as state enactments. But these are essentially fatwas or Islamic edicts and are seemingly unenforceable on non-Muslims under the Federal Constitution.

The following year,  Al-Kitab or the Malay-language Bible which uses the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God was banned under the Internal Security Act 1960 on the basis that it is a threat to national security. Two thirds of the two million Christians in the country are Malay speaking bumiputeras who use the Alkitab as their daily Bible.

NONEThis ban came five months after Dr Mahathir Mohamad became the country’s fourth Prime Minister on July 16, 1981, after Hussein Onn stepped down for health reasons. He relented upon appeals from church leaders but  Al-Kitab remains under a restricted ban to this day.

His successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, continued the Al-Kitab ban. In addition, he banned the ‘Bup Kudus’, the Iban Bible while in his capacity as acting Prime Minister and Home Minister in early 2003 as it contained the words ‘Allah Taala’ (God Most High). The ban was withdrawn two months later following protests by Iban Christians.

Under the Najib administration, an attempt was made to resolve Al-Kitab and ‘Allah’ word problems under a ‘10-point solution’. But this is merely a superficial attempt as  Al-Kitab remains under a restrictive ban. The usage of the ‘Allah’ word by non-Muslims is still prohibited even though the High Court has ruled that this is untenable. This is because the Attorney-General has challenged its judgment.

This matter affects everyone not just Christians. It strikes at the root of our constitution that allows us to believe what we believe. The gangrene has been festering like a thorn in the flesh for far too long; 32 years under four Prime Ministers. The laws under which the disputes first arose are now defunct or amended. There is no further need for such laws that have outlived their usefulness.

The Attorney-General would do all of us justice by withdrawing his appeal against the High Court judgment favouring the titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur and the Herald. Leave ‘Allah’ alone, please.

And Happy New Year to all.

BOB TEOH currently lives in Indonesia and is author of ‘Allah, More than Just a Word’ (2010).

11 thoughts on “Bob Teoh’s New Year’s Wish: Leave Allah Alone

  1. We are being ruled in a manner in which we are being ruled because we have allowed it. We have allowed the lines of seperation of powers to be blurred. Now people like me who have to live beneath our means are being collectively punished by God because we did not speak up when we should have. For us there is no God.

  2. The ban on the use of the word “Allah” is artificial and draconian. The Constitution does not state that non-Muslims cannot use the word “Allah”. The Koran itself does not restrict the word “Allah” from being used by others because in the Koran there was not a single sentence that state that Allah has said that his name should not be used by non-believers. In fact, the word “Allah” was used even before there is Islam. Muslims in the Middle-east, Indonesia and in fact all over the world, except for the ultra-politico Muslims in Malaysia, do not prohibit the use of the word “Allah” to only Muslims. I remembered during the 1960s the utterance of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims was not an issue.

    The prohibition was the result of a political construct and struggle between UMNO and PAS who were afraid that the Malays if given the freedom to choose might not all become Muslims. They need the numbers to show their political relevance. Therefore this artificial restriction under the ISA is not done because of religion but raw politics. Religion is being corrupted and misused as a means to an end.

  3. Are you guys serious?? If you’e in search of the historical Jesus, the Bible is not the only place to start your search.? Roger that? Kapish so far? So is the search for the One.

    Americans found him wondering the corridors of the Capitol before they realized he is the One . If you ask John McCain he would say, “Oh that one?”

    In Malaysia’s case the national conversation on the same issue has taken a twist recently. People who call themselves Malays are so lost for their identity and so emotionally insecure that a few hundred years after wading ashore they are still laying claims to everything they see and touch. Today they see themselves as Muslims (they were not before) and they claim “Allah” as theirs. Had the country’s founding fathers not had the ‘wisdom’ to insert sub-clause (4) of Article 11 of the country’s Federal Constitution 1957, a few hundred years from today, the Malays would be claiming Son of Sam as their own.

    It is not political Islam that is at the cross roads but the Malays. They are so lost and in need of a new identity and a make-over. Their mistake is to claim God as their own.

  4. “The Koran itself does not restrict the word “Allah” from being used by others because in the Koran there was not a single sentence that state that Allah has said that his name should not be used by non-believers. In fact, the word “Allah” was used even before there is Islam. Muslims in the Middle-east” vsop

    The Malays are not dumb. They know that.

    If you were to ask Husin, he would say Ellese the cross dresser says that Budak UMNO was told by his master to open to Sura an-Najm and look at the space between verse 19 and verse 20. He was told if “you stare at anything long enough you get to see whatever you want to see”. Does it not remind you of the story about a man waiting for the bus? If you look in one direction long enough you will see it.

  5. The GE13 will bring a change for the better to this problem as Anwar was joking on the stupidity of this ruling when he gave a lecture to the Australian National University. Should the new government maintain this ruling, the ANU lecture will be highlighted to them. Lets see!

  6. You guys missed the wood by staring too hard and too long at the trees. The issue is one of legitimacy to govern.. UMNO is in a fight for the legitimacy to rule. They think if they walk around with the word ‘Allah’ stamped on their foreheads long enough (if you look hard at their foreheads you will see that many already have it) their fight for the mandate to rule then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    They have so duped themselves that they can no longer distinguish between Rosmah’s cheeks and Najib’s nose.

  7. What really boggles my mind is that all these talk and the obvious seems to have escape so many involved.

    1) Sarawak and Sabah is guaranteed specifically in the Malaysia Agreement of ABSOLUTE right of freedom of religion. A ban violates the very core of the Malaysia Agreement. Even if you want to throw out the secularity of the Federal Constitution, you can’t escape that fact. As soon as Sarawakians and Sabahan have a high enough income and education, they will demand the injustice to be corrected and when it comes to religion – ANYTHING including rebellion and secession is possible.

    2) Its inherently insane to regulate people’s private words and language. Its no different than censoring the mind itself. No good can come of imposing that kind of hegemony on others especially a weaker minority.. It is inherently ill-will and malicious. It will always come back and haunt the prepetrators.

  8. And even the Sikhs have claimed they had the word “Allah” written 37 times in their own holy scripture and deemed the fatwa as oppressive and unfair.

    Everything that is wrong in this country and destroying the fabric of social life and wellbeing – the stupid bonker Attorney-General Gani Petai has a hand in it – that fella has to be the first to be brought up to answer once PR takes over Putrajaya!!! No two ways about it…

  9. Dato’ Din, please correct me if i am wrong, as things stands at the moment in the Appeal, to me the Judgement of Lau Bee Lia, J is only a ” Declaration ” and not the usual mandatory Mandamus Order, compelling the Govt to adhere, under the Constituional guarantee on the Freedom of Speech. (Universally, anyone can ‘use’ the Word ” Allah” for understanding & scholarship, or Learning etc…..But ” grafting One Word ‘Allah” into another Faith system built upon its own Total Structure, to me is fundamentaaly Incorrect, b’coz the two lead to Two DIFFERENT Conclusions ).

    Kindly refer to the other Thread = Another Storm brewing in the Word ” Allah ” in which Lolong G Mail on 28th Dec., explains critically, why IF it is GRAFTED like bud-grafting, the entire Revelation/s become Anachronistic..

  10. Revelation is Not Legalism.
    What’s your own revelation? Do you have any that’s untaught or coerced by others?

    In Judeo-Christian terms, it just means an unveiling of God’s Infinite Providence, Will, Divine Truths and so on. It can be nonverbal, non-literal, propositional, progressive, systemic, existential or experiential but is never Static nor Parochial. Why? Because God is the Infinite.

    Nowadays,as in ancient times, the individual is being absorbed by the crowd – stifled by their political and economic illusions. Thus, the effort of herding us together by uniting under spurious terms like race, religion, sex, denomination, economic class, grand plans and greater schemes. As we bumble along, behaving as such scoundrels, we insist we know more than our neighbors and become vigilantes of the Fumbling God of the Gnostics (Demiurge).

    Such is the Hypocrisy of the Teachers of Law and the Pharisees. You guys carry on. Those who see, will see; but the blind will lead the blind.

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