Court of Appeal Judgement on the use of the word ‘Allah’

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the Court of Appeal Judgement on the use of the word Allah

As a Member of Parliament and a Malaysian Christian, I am saddened and disappointed by the decision of the Court of Appeal to overturn the High Court decision that the ban on the use of the word Allah by the Catholic Church publication, the Herald, in Bahasa Melayu, was unconstitutional.

The reasons given by the presiding judges in the grounds of judgement were especially disappointing and have far reaching application beyond the usage of the word Allah in one publication by the Catholic Church. In fact, the grounds of judgement can easily be extended to ban the word Allah in all Christian publications, including the bible of the Al-Kitab, whether it is in Bahasa Melayu, Iban, or any other language.

To say that “It is our common finding that the usage of the name “Allah” is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity”, as written in the summary judgement shows a complete lack of understanding of the practice of Christianity by Sarawak and Sabahan Bumiputera Christians, who have been using the name “Allah” to refer to God in their prayers, songs and scriptures for generations.

In liberally quoting Christian sources from outside Malaysia to explain that even Christians do not agree with the usage of the word ‘Allah’, Dato Mohd Zawawi bin Salleh, one of the presiding judges, has done a great disservice to the Sarawak and Sabahan Bumiputera Christian community, who grew up with the unanimous understanding that ‘Allah’ has been and will continue to be used to refer to God. In liberally quoting sources, including an opinion piece by a Brutus Balan which appeared on a website run by Daniel Pipes, a well-known right wing US academic, as well as Fox News, is to do a great disservice to himself.

Dato Sri Haji Mohamed Apandi bin Haji Ali, the author of the summary judgement, writes that “the usage of the word “Allah” particularly in the Malay version of the Herald, is without doubt, do have the potential to disrupt the even tempo of life of the Malaysian community …. Such publication will surely have an adverse effect upon the sanctity as envisaged under Article 3(1) and the right for other religions to be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation … Any such disruption of the even tempo is contrary to the hope and desire of peaceful and harmonious co-existence of other religions other than Islam in this country.” In other words, the usage of the word Allah by the Catholic Herald is a potential threat to the peace and harmony which exists in Malaysia even though such a threat has never materialized in Sabah and Sarawak where Bumiputera Christians have been using the word Allah for generations! This too is a great disservice to the Bumiputera Christian community in Malaysia and the harmonious relations enjoyed by Christians and Muslims in East Malaysia.

Dato Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahim, the third judge presiding over this matter, wrote that the online accessibility of the Herald “means that the Herald can be read by anybody – be it Muslim or non-Muslim. For this reason, I am of the view that the permission given by the Ministry for the printing and publication of Al-Kitab in which the word “Allah” appears cannot be treated in the same manner as the printing and publication of the Herald with the usage of the word “Allah””. I wonder if the learned judge realizes that the Al-Kitab, in Bahasa Melayu, is also available online?[1]

As a legislator, I am saddened that an essential and basic human right, the practice of the freedom of religion, as found in Articles 3, 8 and 11 of the Federal Constitution, can be denied on such weak legal grounds, purportedly to protect ‘peace and harmony’.

As a Malaysian, I am saddened that many Muslim groups and individuals, including some of the learned judges presiding over this matter, see a larger conspiratorial agenda by Christians to ‘convert’ Muslims by using the word ‘Allah’ in Christian publications. ‘Allah’ has been used by Christians in Sabah and Sarawak for generations without the threat or occurrence of mass conversions by Muslims into the Christian faith.

As a Malaysian Christian, I call upon my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to continue to pray for the nation, the judiciary and the upholding of human rights and fundamental liberties in this country. I will also continue to pray for my Muslim countrymen to take this opportunity to visit BM speaking churches and speak to their BM speaking Christian friends to see for themselves how Allah has been and will continue to be used by Christians in Malaysia and that this is not a threat to Islam’s position as the religion of the Federation.

I would also like to take this opportunity to wish my Muslim friends “Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Adha.”