KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 — Malaysia may as well return to mob rule instead of settling disputes through the courts, a former de facto law minister suggested today as Islamic authorities here flex muscle before Tuesday's appeal hearing on the "Allah" word.
Datuk Zaid Ibrahim noted that powerful government religious agencies have been making "provocative and threatening statements" over the "Allah" row, placing immense pressure on judges that could affect their ability to try the case independently.
"Don’t pressure our judges. Of late provocative and threatening statements are issued by those in authority with regard to the Allah issue," the one time minister in the Abdullah administration said on his Twitter handle, @zaidibrahim.
"If we don’t want the court to decide on any matter pass a law in Parliament to that effect. Do it properly; not by intimidation," he said.
Islamic authorities here have been targeting non-Muslims in the run-up to the Home Ministry's legal push to ban the Catholic Church from publishing the Arabic word for god in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its local paper, the Herald.
Just days before the "Allah" row returns to court, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) hit out at non-Muslims for deigning to challenge the government for use of the term, and called upon Muslims to unite in a "holy struggle" against enemies of the faith.
In a nationwide sermon last Friday, JAKIM also laid claim to a list of words asides from "Allah" that it purports to be exclusive to Muslims and prohibited to non-Muslims.
The federal Islamic authority stressed that the ultimate goal of its opponents, which it failed to name, is to confuse Muslims and put every religion on equal terms, which will then lead to a "sea of apostasy".
Last week, an international Muslim organisation had alleged that the Catholic Church's fight to use "Allah" is part of a failed colonial-era strategy by Christians here to proselytise Muslims.
Last month, Muslim activists had alleged a global Christian evangelical conspiracy behind the “Allah” row, as they described a clandestine agenda to colonise Islamic souls and countries.
In a feature run in Malay daily Utusan Malaysia’s weekend edition, Mingguan Malaysia, they claimed the Christian insistence on using the Arabic word “Allah” was out of a desire to proselytise to Muslims, even challenge the Federal Constitution and the Malay rulers.
But Zaid, a lawyer-turned-politician, reminded the government that it too was subject to the rule of law.
"If government don’t respect the judges then we will have 1988 all over again," he said in a series of tweets earlier today, referring to the 1988 judicial crisis when the courts were stripped of their independence as a separate arm of government.
He added: "its the job of Police to maintain order, to defend decision."
The man who had once held high posts in both the ruling party and the opposition also referred to a news report today by The Malaysian Insider claiming government lawyers would be centring their argument to ban the Church from using "Allah" on the potential public disorder it may cause.
"The argument that a decision not approved by the people will lead to chaos is stupid and contemptuous. This is mob rule," Zaid said.
Religious tensions have been long been simmering in Malaysia in recent years, with the latest controversy surrounding a proposed law on child conversions to Islam deepening divisions between the Muslim majority and religious minorities.
The “Allah” row erupted in 2008 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the Herald’s newspaper permit for its reference to God as “Allah”, prompting the Catholic Church to sue the government for violating its constitutional rights.
Christians subsequently argued that the word predates Islam and that their right to use “Allah” in a non-Muslim context was affirmed by the government’s own 10-point solution issued in 2011.
The 2009 High Court decision upholding the Catholic Church’s constitutional right to use the word “Allah” had shocked many Muslims that consider the word to only refer to the Islamic God.
It also led to Malaysia’s worst religious strife, with houses of worship throughout the country coming under attack.
Muslims are Malaysia's largest religious group, followed by Buddhists. Christians are the third-largest at 2.6 million, according to statistics from the 2010 consensus.