Saturday, October 19, 2013

3 Simple Reasons I Disagree with "Allah" Ban

Why should you care about the "Allah" ban, especially if you are not a Christian or Sikh? After all, it won't affect your lives right? Well, you might want to think twice. If you are still unaware of the issue, please take some time to read this as it will affect how we move forward as a country in the history of Malaysia. 


According to historical manuscripts, Arabic-speaking Muslims, Christians and Jews have collectively used “Allah” referring to God for more than 1,400 years. In Malaysia, the Sikh and East Malaysian Bumiputra and Orang Asli Christians (who constitute 60% of the church in Malaysia today, and mostly Bahasa Malaysia-speaking), have been using the word “Allah” both before and after the independence of Malaya and the formation of Malaysia. The use of the word “Allah” by the people of other faiths had not been an issue in Malaysia all these years.


In 2007, the Home Ministry banned the use of "Allah" in the Malay section of The Herald, a weekly publication of the Catholic Church, arguing that it could confuse and cause offence among the Muslims in Malaysia, subsequently threatening national security. The Catholic Church challenged the order. In 2009, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that the word “Allah” was not exclusive to Muslims only and that all Malaysians had the right to use the word under the Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression and religion.

 The government then filed an appeal and recently, the 3-member bench Court of Appeal unanimously decided to overturn the KL High Court decision. It pronounced the use of "Allah" in The Herald unlawful and unconstitutional. The Catholic Church will now go to the Federal Court, Malaysia’s highest court, to challenge the judgment of Court of Appeal. 


There are many good pieces written by different groups on why the Court of Appeal judgment is flawed (listed at the end). Before you read the 'heavy stuff' with more detailed explanations, here are 3 simple reasons why I say NO to the "Allah" ban: - 

1. Fundamental Human Rights for all Malaysians

It is simply unreasonable for any Malaysian to be denied their fundamental freedom to express their religious beliefs on the basis that it might cause confusion to some people. Isn't it better to educate the easily confused, instead of restricting the rights of others? As a matter of fact, before the "Allah" ban in Malaysia, Muslims around the world have not been confused sharing the word "Allah" with the Jews and Christians for more than one thousand years. 

2. It Is Simply Not Practical

Even if the ban is constitutionally and morally legitimate, the enforcement of the ban is simply not practical. 

Is the "Allah" ban only for The Herald? If yes, then the ban will not serve its purpose of avoiding confusion because other non-Muslim materials apart from The Herald can still use the term "Allah”. What's the point of imposing a ban which cannot serve its purpose?

Or does the ban apply to all materials of other faiths? If yes, what about a foreigner who comes to Malaysia with non-Islam materials containing the term "Allah"? Do we confiscate the materials in the airport? If yes, then our Customs will have trouble scanning all materials for the term "Allah" as there is no such scanning equipment available. And do we charge the foreigner in court for "smuggling" non-Islam materials with the term "Allah"?

As I am writing this, the government announced that the "Allah" ban will not affect the Christians in Sabah and Sarawak (knowing their fixed deposit is seriously at stake). That further complicates the practicality of the ban. Does the ban apply only in West Malaysia? What about the Christians from Sabah and Sarawak who reside in West Malaysia? How then can the enforcement unit decide on who and where "Allah" can or cannot be used? 

I shall not elaborate further. In short, this "Allah" ban is simply not practical. 

3. For the Future of Malaysia

Most importantly, the "Allah" ban will seriously hurt the unity of this already divided and segmented nation. 

How do we build an inclusive society when a certain segment can claim the exclusive right to use certain term? 

Imagine how we are going to tell our little children that only in Malaysia, "Allah" is exclusive for the Muslims and at the same time, convince them that Malaysia is a united country. You may think this situation is still bearable and hence can't be bother. Nevertheless, remember the story of the frog-in-the-boiling water? 

It is the little by little encroachment of human rights by the government and the little by little compromise by the society that  we may end up an oppressive and divided nation in the future. 

How we, as a society, collectively react to the "Allah" ban will shape the future of this nation. Therefore, speaking against it now is crucial if we are serious about building a united Malaysia where freedom is enjoyed by all Malaysians regardless of race, religion, culture, language and geography. 


We, the wakil rakyats, are elected to be the voice of conscience for all Malaysians. 

Just a month ago, I spoke up against workplace discrimination of women in tudung based on the principle of human rights and the right of Muslim women to be free from any forms of discrimination (link). By the same token, I wish to speak against the Court of Appeal ruling over the ban of using the word "Allah".   

I know many UMNO cyber-troopers who conveniently label me as a Christian evangelical politician will now use this political stand as their weapon of attack. However it is my duty as an elected representative to make a political stand without fear or intimidation based on the principle of human rights and in consideration for the future of this nation.

Therefore, I say NO to the "Allah" ban. 


Further readings:-

1. Media Statement by the Bar Council on Court of Appeal Judgement on "Allah" Issue 
2. In the Name of Allah, The Economist
3. No One Has Monopoly Claim to God, The Jakarta Post
4. Would Malaysia be formed if Court of Appeal Allah Judgement was the Law of the Land, by Lim Kit Siang