The Freedom of Religion vs. Laying Down of Rights
THERE are several approaches to address the issue of whether "Allah" should be used by non-Muslims in this country. Among the political and legal arguments are the 10-point solution promised by the Cabinet in April 2011, whereby the rights of non-Muslims to use "Allah" were recognised. There is also the High Court judgment of 31 Dec 2009 which affirmed the constitutional right of the Catholic weekly, The Herald, to use "Allah. This right has been legally recognised and still stands.
There are also theological, historical and linguistic arguments which have already been presented, notably by scholars like Dr Ng Kam Weng on his website at www.krisispraxis.com, and by Alkitab translator, Dr Daud Soesilo, who is also the Global Translation Advisor to the United Bible Societies (UBS).
Most of these resources, however, are in English and while written as simply as possible for public consumption, can still be difficult to digest by most readers. Lack of such material in Bahasa Malaysia is also a problem in helping BM-speaking Christians articulate arguments on a theological, historical and linguistic basis. Efforts must be continued to educate lay Christians to develop cogent arguments on the use of "Allah" by non-Muslims, and to appreciate the history of Malay Bible translation, a heritage that is 400 years old.
But there are also views that Christians should "lay down" their rights to use the word so as to live in peace with others and to show love. This view needs to wrestle with the notion of religious freedom, a fundamental liberty granted to all people.
In NECF's advisory on 10 January 2013 to churches (available at www.necf.org.my), we affirmed the right to the freedom of religion for all persons as a constitutional provision under Article 11.
"This right to profess, practice and manage our own religious affairs includes the use of the Alkitab, which is the Holy Bible in Bahasa Malaysia, our national language, as well as the Bible in the native languages of Sabah and Sarawak which also use "Allah", both in the public and private spheres of life including in all our church meetings and in our homes.
"To insist that the use of any word in the national language is only for one particular religion is contrary to the Federal Constitution. It is ludicrous for one faith community to interfere in and tell other faith communities how they should manage their own faith and religious affairs, particularly by imposing which words can or cannot be used in their holy Scriptures."
Our advisory also highlighted other legal arguments. For one, fatwa prohibiting "Allah" from being used by non-Muslims has no bearing on non-Muslims if such fatwa are made pursuant to state enactments on the Administration of the Religion of Islam, which covers Islamic administrative matters. Such an enactment would be applicable to Muslims only.
We also argued that banning the word among non-Muslims under state enactments on Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) is only within the context of propagation. How then, can a law to govern propagation be made to encroach on the rights of non-Muslims to profess and practice their own religion, and to manage their own religious affairs.
The freedom of religion cannot be divorced from the legal, theological, linguistic and historical arguments in this equation. The freedom of religion is a critical consideration that cannot be divorced from the rest. Hence, it is not a question of laying down rights for the sake of peace, but of, firstly, upholding human dignity to free conscience and conviction which God has invested human being. This is recognised by the letter and intent of the Federal Constitution, which is the only common document, despite its flaws, that keeps our fractious, multi-religious and multi-racial society from disintegrating.
Secondly, the reality of our socio-political context is that concessions made by minority groups in one area could eventually lead to more concessions being extracted further down the road.
And thirdly, the freedom of religion which includes the freedom of conscience to choose and even leave one's faith, is surely the most desired path for a country and people that aims to develop democratically, intellectually and spiritually.
Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom! (2 Corinthians 3:17)