Hornbill Unleashed

October 15, 2013

Herald denied use of Allah: Decision might DESTABILIZE M’sia as Muslim ultras demand more

Herald denied use of Allah: Decision might DESTABILIZE M'sia as Muslim ultras demand moreMalaysia Chronicle

As expected, Malaysia’s Court of Appeal has overturned a lower court ruling and denied Catholic magazine, the Herald, the right to use the Arabic word Allah to describe God in its Malay-language edition.

Father Lawrence, the editor of the Herald, told reporters the Church would be appealing the decision. If leave is given, then Malaysia’s Federal Court would be the next to hear the long drawn-out case that was first stirred up in 2007.

When Father Lawrence was asked if he felt that today’s judgement was politically-tinged by the ongoing Umno election, he declined to comment.

However he slammed the “doube-standards” in today’s decision, urging Christians to “pray for justice”. In the meantime, both he and his lawyers said the Herald would abide by the ruling.

Short and sweet

In today’s judgement which was described by some Muslim observers in the court as “short and sweet”, the appellate panel had said the safety of the state was paramount while the usage of the word Allah was relatively unimportant to the Herald’s continued operations.

“I hope that the decision will be accepted by the Christian community,” Nasharuddin Mat Isa, a senior politician who is now an activist with his own Islamic NGO, told Malaysia Chronicle.

He also said the ruling had set a precedent that could be applied to Sabah and Sarawak, where the Christians there currently have right to use Allah in their Malay-language Bible or Al-Kitab.

“Everyone should stick to that decision,” said Nasharuddin.

Decision might destabilize Malaysia, fears of violence as ultra groups gain the upper hand

To what extent will Prime Minister Najib Razak now push the issue remains to be seen. However, there is already deep concern he might seize on the ruling and use the precedent to force Christian groups into surrendering more of their rights whenever it was politically beneficial to him, or whenever he wanted to curry favor with the Muslims.

Some even fear that the Muslim extremists or ultras in Malaysia, flushed by today’s victory, might get more demanding. This would set the stage for a collision course with the Christians, especially those from Sabah and Sarawak. The already high racial and religious disunity is bound to rise at least by another notch and this could destabilize Malaysia even more.

Nasharuddin was among those who attended the hearing at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya this morning. Ibrahim Ali, the head of ultra Malay rights group Perkasa too was present.

However, the Muslim NGOs while noisy and emotional failed to gather more than 200 or so protesters. Shouts of Allahu Akbar or God is Great cut through the cool morning breeze outside the grand court complex, while group prayers were also held.

When the government’s lawyers came to announce the decision, they were greeted like heroes.

Deja-vu, it is Umno elections again: Conditional consent granted in 2009

Many who have been following the history of the Herald’s battle against the Malaysian government have often subscribed political motives behind Prime Minister Najib Razak’s dogged pursuit of this case.

It was Umno Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar who first barred the Herald from using the Allah word, although the Malay-language Bibles in East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak are allowed to use the word.

The convoluted issue came about in 2007 after the Herald was warned not to print an editorial about Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim. After beginning court action and following intense negotiations, on February 26, 2009, the Herald got permission to use the word Allah on its masthead, provided it clearly stated that the magazine was ‘For Christians only’.

The order was signed and gazetted under the Internal Security Act by Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar on February 16. However on February 28, 2009, the Home Ministry rescinded the government gazette allowing the conditional use of the word Allah in Christian publications. The case went to trial and at the end of 2009, the Kuala Lumpur High Court held in favor of the Church, deeming Syed Hamid’s ban as unconstitutional.

At that time, Umno leaders were accused of politicizing the matter so as ingratiate themselves with the Malay Muslims, who form the bulk of voters in Peninsular Malaysia. The 2009 Umno election was due to be held in March, which critics say may have been why Syed Hamid back-pedaled on the conditional consent as he was vying for a position and hoped to be retained in the Cabinet.

It looks like deja-vu as Umno is holding the last lap of its 2013 election on October 19.

A new central leadership is due to be voted in, and among those being challenged are current Home Minister Zahid Hamidi and his predecessor Hishammuddin Hussein, who is now the Defence Minister and also Najib’s cousin.

Should the Appeals Court decision have gone against the Home Ministry, political observers are convinced that rivals of the duo, who are regarded as being Najib’s men, may use the Allah issue to unseat them and thereby dilute Najib’s hold on his party and the federal government.

Pure politics, it’s Guan Eng’s fault

However, this morning, Ibrahim Ali insinuated that Opposition politician Lim Guan Eng, the secretary-general of the DAP and the Penang Chief Minister, was behind the entire Allah incident.

“I think it is political rather than religious. I mean they want to use the name of Kalimah Allah or the name of God for Christians but one thing I discovered when the Bible was published in many versions, they did not use the name of Allah. But when they want to publish the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia, they want to use Allah. So this is why I say this is political rather than a religious matter.

“You remember Lim Guan Eng is  the one calling for the government to allow the Christians to use Kalimah Allah last Christmas Eve and Guan Eng is not a religious authority but he made that statement and I think the motive of Lim Guan Eng is to get the support of the Christian community. So that is the whole thing behind this, it is purely political.

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