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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 — The Malaysian Bar criticised today the Court of Appeal’s “Allah” ruling, pointing out that it is unreasonable to deny a fundamental liberty on the basis that some persons would be confused, and reinforces the notion that the use or threat of violence would win the day in court.
In a strongly worded statement released this evening, the Bar added that there was no basis for the court finding that the word “Allah” was not an integral part of the Christian faith, especially since the conclusion was made as a result of “a quick research” on the Internet.
“It is for a party asserting exclusive rights to the use of the word ‘Allah’ to establish that they have such exclusive rights, rather than for others to have to establish that the use of the word is integral to their faith.
“By most accounts, there is no prohibition on the use of the Arabic word ‘Allah’ by peoples of different faiths in the Arab world and other countries. It is difficult to discern how we are able to declare exclusivity of a word over which we do not have proprietary rights.”
On Monday, the Court of Appeal ruled against a High Court decision allowing the Catholic Church to refer to the Christian god with the Middle Eastern word “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its weekly newsletter, the Herald.
The court adjudged the usage of the word “Allah” as not integral to the Christian faith and said that allowing such an application would cause confusion in the Muslim community.
The Catholic Church has said it would appeal the decision.
Sabah and Sarawak churches, however, have maintained that they will continue their age-old practice of addressing God as “Allah” in their prayer services and in the Al-Kitab, the Bahasa Malaysia translation of the bible.
An increasing number of Christians now use Bahasa Malaysia in church services, and “Allah” is used to describe God in translations of the bible. “Allah” is also used by Christians in Indonesia and the Middle East.
Despite assurances that churches here only wanted to use the word in services and on literature meant for Christians, conservative Muslims here see its use as an attempt by Christians to confuse or convert Muslims.
Christopher Leong, the Malaysian Bar president, said today that Monday’s court decision “does not in any way aid in addressing or resolving the alleged confusion amongst persons professing the religion of Islam, when in fact that word ‘Allah’ is used by more than one community in this country and by peoples of different faiths in the Arab world and other Muslim countries.
“Rather, the effect of the decision would be to encourage a perpetual state of confusion or ignorance as justifiable grounds for denying the rights of others. The course that ought to have been taken should be to educate those persons who would be confused and not to restrict or injunct the exercise of rights by others.”
The Bar was also concerned with the court’s conclusion that the use of the word ‘Allah’ in the Malay version of the Herald would have the potential to threaten or harm public order and safety.
“Having recited that religious sensitivities are a threat to public order and safety, the decision unfortunately serves to reinforce the notion that the use or threat of violence would win the day in court. It is unacceptable that citizens are denied their Constitutional rights of religious freedom and expression on the basis that others who disagree or who are confused would resort to aggression,” said Leong.
The Bar noted also that the court made an “unnatural” reading of Article 3(1) of the Constitution in concluding that the insertion of the words “in peace and harmony” is to protect the sanctity of Islam and “also to insulate against any threat…to the religion of Islam”.
Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution expressly provides that “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation”.
“The words in their clear and ordinary meaning provides for the right of other religions to be practiced unmolested and free of threats.
“In referring to the social contract, effect should be given to the understanding as at 1957 and not to the numerous amendments that have since been made to the Federal Constitution in violation thereof.”
The Bar cited Paragraph 57 of the White Paper in 1957 which gave rise to Articles 3(1) and 11(4) of the Federal Constitution.
The White Paper said that “there has been included in the proposed Federal Constitution a declaration that Islam is the religion of the Federation. This will in no way affect the present position of the Federation as a secular State, and every person will have the right to profess and practice his own religion and the right to propagate his religion, though this last right is subject to any restrictions imposed by State law relating to the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the Muslim religion.”