JUNE 26 — June 23, 2014, will go down as one of the darkest days in Malaysia’s history. On that very day, the Federal Court (Malaysia’s apex court) decided not to grant the Catholic church leave for appeal on the use of the word “Allah” for its weekly newsletter publication The Herald.
The saga began in 2007 when the Home Ministry of Malaysia decided to issue a ban prohibiting The Herald from using the word “Allah” in its newsletter. The Herald had been peacefully doing so since 1995.
The Catholic church was in a state of shock as the weekly publication was meant for internal circulation, thus dispelling any fears that it would be used to propagate its teachings to Muslims.
The High Court in 2009 ruled in favour of the Catholic church and quashed the prohibition. The government appealed and the Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the High Court.
The Catholic church exercised its legal right to pursue the matter up the hierarchy of courts but was turned down by the Federal Court. Four out of the seven-man bench decided against allowing the leave for appeal.
The leave for appeal is basically a permission to appeal a previous judgement/ruling. Without the leave for appeal, one is stuck with the decision of the earlier court.
So what is the aftermath of the decision? It can’t all be that bad because Putrajaya has assured that the decision is only applicable to The Herald and would have no effect whatsoever on Christians who practise their faith in the national language.
Putrajaya’s assurance counts for nothing as even its 10-point solution is not legally binding whereas the Court of Appeal’s decision is binding precedent and has to be followed by courts of equal and lower status.
The Federal Court’s refusal to grant The Herald leave for appeal means that the Court of Appeal’s decision is good law. The ratio decidendi (“the reason or the rationale for the decision”, “the point in a case which determines the judgment”, or “the principle which the case establishes”) is that the word “Allah” is not an integral part of the Christian faith.
Tell me again how that legal principle will only be bound to The Herald? Henceforth, whenever a case appears before the courts regarding the use of “Allah” in any Christian publication (e.g. the Alkitab), all lower courts will be bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal.
This has major ramifications on the rights of Christians to practise and profess their religion as per Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. Christians who practise their faith in Bahasa Malaysia will be unable to read the Bible in the language they have used all this while.
That is only the beginning of the aftermath. Before we know it, the holy book of the Sikhs will also be seized and prohibited because of the use of the word “Allah”.
What is most saddening is that the highest court of the land (i.e. the Federal Court), which has the ability to remedy this wrong, refused to get involved. May we never forget this dark moment!
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.