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Let cool heads prevail

Posted: 19 Oct 2013 04:46 PM PDT

In highly contentious situations, it would be wiser to leave things as they are for the time being.

Wong Chun Wai, The Star

YOU can't blame many Malaysians for being confused. The Court of Appeal has ruled that the use of the word "Allah" is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity and therefore could find no reason why the Catholic Church's weekly publication, The Herald, is so adamant to use it.

In short, the word "Allah" should be exclusively used by Muslims and The Herald should not be using the name in its Bahasa Malaysia edition.

The three-member panel chaired by Justice Mohamed Apandi Ali unanimously ruled in favour of the Government's appeal to set aside the 2009 decision of the High Court which had overturned the Home Ministry's decision that the church cannot use the word in The Herald's Malay language edition.

The Court of Appeal also ruled that its usage would cause confusion within the local Muslim community and cited Article 3(1) and Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution as grounds for its decision.

The court found that the Home Ministry's prohibition on the usage of the word in The Herald did not infringe any constitutional rights.

But in less than 24 hours, senior Sarawak and Sabah leaders, including Muslims, quickly came out to clarify that the court ruling was just restricted to The Herald.

They assured the sizeable Christian bumiputra voters, who include many loyal Barisan Nasional supporters, that the court ruling did not apply to them in their daily prayers and devotions.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Depart­ment Nancy Shukri was reported as saying that "the Government has nothing to do with the outcome of that decision".

Nancy, who is also the de facto law minister, said the decision against the use of the word "Allah" is confined only to The Herald.

Put simply, the court decision was not a blanket ruling against the usage of the word by non-Muslims.

A news portal also cited Deputy Home Minister Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar as having the same view.

It quoted him as saying that the Cabinet decision to allow the use of Allah in Bahasa Malaysia or native language Bibles in Sabah and Sarawak and the assurance given by Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud in 2011 still stand, thereby suggesting that the Government does not believe that the word is exclusive to Muslims.

Both Nancy and Wan Junaidi are from Sarawak, where Nancy is MP for Batang Sadong and the latter is MP for Santubong.

I am sure the two leaders know their constituents very well and that their statements reflected the sentiments in the state.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Tan Sri Joseph Kurup also weighed in, saying that "all political parties and leaders should engage the people in productive dialogues to ease tensions".

The Sabahan leader said they should exercise maximum restraint by not engaging in a "holier-than-thou" contest.

"I urge all parties for the sake of national unity to be cautious with their statements, not to be provocative with their unwarranted statements and stop creating fear to the extent that certain communities begin to question the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution in our country," he said in a statement last week.

If you read what Kurup has said, between the lines, it is obvious that he is concerned about the court decision.

But as Malaysians discuss this issue, it must be remembered that a huge section of Muslims share the sentiments that the word should be used only by Muslims.

I have spoken to many of my Muslim friends and colleagues, and they have shared their thoughts with me frankly. For that, I am thankful that we are still able to discuss even the most delicate issues rationally and calmly.

From their perspective, there is this genuine fear that the word "Allah" could be manipulated by over-zealous Christian evangelists, explaining that "the name Allah is still something basic and fundamental to Islam".

Former National Fatwa Council chairman Datuk Dr Ismail Ibrahim reportedly said that "the name Allah, from a philosophical point, its definition and concept is not equal with the name Tuhan, God, Lord and so on in the usage of other religions".

But the reality is that the court's decision has been interpreted in so many ways now. If it's merely restricted to The Herald, then no one should attempt to extend the court ruling to other sections.

The concerns of Christians, especially those who only speak and read Bahasa Malaysia, are equally genuine. They will continue to read the Bahasa Malaysia Bible or the Bahasa Indonesian Bible, which uses "Allah", and for practical purposes, how can anyone stop such worshipping?

Likewise, it is downright confusing to tell Christians in Sabah and Sarawak that they can make reference to Allah in their states but not in peninsular Malaysia.

What then happens when our Sabahan and Sarawakian brethren come over the peninsula for work or travel?

There are many churches in the peninsula, including in Kuala Lumpur, that are attended by Sabahans, Sarawakians and Indonesians – with all the services in Bahasa Malaysia – and surely we cannot be telling them that they can't pray according to their own ways.

The same predicament, I suppose, is also faced by the Sikhs, as the word "Allah" appears 37 times in the Sikh Holy Book. The Babas also use the word "Tuan Allah" in some churches in Malacca. The Christian orang asli in the peninsula, likewise, worship using the Bahasa Malaysia Bible.

For the time being, it is best that we let cool heads and wisdom prevail. Often, it is wiser to just let things remain untouched and to let things be. A non-conclusive situation is sometimes, ironic as it may be, the best way out.


A mixed bag

Posted: 19 Oct 2013 04:42 PM PDT

Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak seems delighted with the new team that has emerged in Umno but whether they will be an asset or give him more headaches remains to be seen.

The right wing segment of Umno thinks he has been too soft and given too much to the non-Malays and yet not get their support in the general election. They feel that Umno must take stands and push for policies that reflect the ethnic reality on the ground where bumiputras make up 67.9% of the population and Muslims comprise 59% of the population.

Joceline Tan, The Star

WANITA Umno leader Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil was in great demand last week. No less than the incumbent Umno vice-presidents (VP) had sought her out as the bridge to reach out to the Wanita Umno delegates.

It was not as though the VPs did not have access to the Wanita wing as they rushed to wrap up their election campaign. What they wanted was basically Shahrizat's endorsement. They knew that if she endorsed them, it was as good as having the endorsement of the senior ladies.

Shahrizat's command over the Wanita wing is beyond dispute after she won a second term as Wanita Umno leader in spectacular fashion. She holds the women in the palm of her hand.

Shortly after she knew that she had crossed the finishing line, she arrived at the PWTC accompanied by her entire family – husband, daughter, two sons and daughter-in-law. It was evident that she also regarded the results as some sort of vindication of the way she and her family were vilified over the National Feedlot Corporation.

The results showed that the ladies see her as a victim of perception in the entire affair and that they still have faith in her leadership even if others in the party are concerned about how people outside Umno will judge her re-election.

Many in Umno have seriously under-estimated her political clout. Beneath that soft, refined and womanly exterior lies nerves of steel.

She accepted the victory without losing her composure while several among her loyal team of women grew emotional and could be seen dabbing at their eyes the whole evening.

It was likely that their tears were not just for her win but also for what she has gone through the last two years. They knew that she went through hell and back.

"We are not surprised over the support for Kak Ijat. She is one leader who really goes to the ground and she takes us with her," said Pahang Wanita chief Datuk Rosni Zahari.

Shahrizat's win may not burnish Umno's image among those outside the party, but it should give Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak the peace of mind that the wing is intact, united and loyal.

Following his equally impressive re-election as Umno Youth leader, Khairy Jamaluddin is now being touted as the "future of Umno" by his supporters and even some of his critics.

Khairy entered politics amid much controversy. But his stint in the wilderness after winning the Youth post the first time around has turned out to be one of those blessings in disguise.

That challenging period of his career has been held up as a testimony that he is a fighter, someone who can thrive in adversity and does not give up easily. He has earned his stripes and the respect of many in the party.

"He passed the test, he'll be an asset to Umno. He is someone who can stand up to the opposition," said Juhaidi Yean Abdullah, a former aide to an Umno minister.

Khairy, said Juhaidi, is the man to watch over the next five years.

"He has traction with the age group that Umno wants to attract. He is smart and argues well, never mind that he is not photogenic," said a former Putrajaya official.

When the Youth chief described his win as an endorsement of his "progressive leadership", he was addressing the audience that went beyond the boundaries of Umno. He was basically telling those outside Umno that the party's future will encompass progressive politics and that he hopes they will come along with him.

"As a friend, I am proud of Khairy's progressive politics. It will make Umno more relevant to the Malaysian electorate. We need leaders who are willing to stand up for that," said former Umno Youth official Datuk Zaki Zahid.

This will be Khairy's challenge in the years ahead. He will have to find an equilibrium between like-minded members who want the party to move towards the centre and the more conservative and right-wing members who want the old Umno.

There is a great deal resting on the shoulders of the new Puteri Umno leader Mas Ermieyati. The Puteri leadership after Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said's exit has not lived up to expectations.

It has lost its oomph and some of the men at the division level feel that these young members are not pulling their weight. One Umno division chief has often complained that during Umno events, the Puteri girls are more interested in using their handphones to snap pictures of themselves with Umno leaders.

Ermieyati has to galvanise the wing and create new programmes that can give the wing a higher profile rather than just eye a deputy minister post. She has to look deep into these issues and make the wing more meaningful to young Malay women, especially those in urban areas.

This Umno election is taking place against a vastly different political landscape from that which Umno is used to. It is no longer the king of the hill that it used to be. Umno as a party is still holding up well against its arch-rival PAS but it has been let down by its component parties which have crumbled against the advance of DAP and PKR.

Umno is often portrayed by its detractors as a party of extremists but it comprises members ranging from the ultra-conservative to those with more open views on social and political issues.

"Umno is not a communist party or a party of zombies where everyone thinks and says the same thing. Our members have ideas and aspirations. We can agree and disagree about where the party is going and that is what we see now.

"The important thing is to come to consensus at the end of the day and to not lose sight of the core values of the Malay struggle," said former Penang Umno strongman Datuk Seri Dr Ibrahim Saad.

A clearer picture of the new team that Najib is leading will be available by today when the full results of the vice-presidents (VP) and supreme council are verified.

The popular view was that the last team was a transition team that comprised those from the Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi era as well as the Najib men. But the vastly expanded voter base that brought in the new team also means that they are quite a mixed bag of people.

The question being asked is whether they can gel with what the president wants to do.

"The president is a very amiable person who can work with almost anyone. His relationship with the two former prime ministers is proof of how he handles extraordinary situa­tions and people.

"He does not hold grudges, he does not show his temper nor is he a reactive person. His one big fault is that he is often too nice, even to those who cross him," said a political insider.

Najib, said the insider, has a vast network of political friends who go back to his days as the leader of Umno Youth. They are very loyal to him and he relies on them but generally, he is ready to accept who the grassroots have chosen.

But Najib is also facing this tug-of-war going on in the party between those who want the old Umno and those who want to move forward. His problem is a bigger version of that confronting his Youth chief.

The right wing segment of Umno thinks he has been too soft and given too much to the non-Malays and yet not get their support in the general election.

They feel that Umno must take stands and push for policies that reflect the ethnic reality on the ground where bumiputras make up 67.9% of the population and Muslims comprise 59% of the population.

The more hard-headed among them feel betrayed and think that Umno must now take care of the Malay ground because it is the Malays who are keeping the Barisan Nasional in power. The more level-headed members feel hurt by the non-Malay rejection but they also understand that Najib must continue to engage the middle ground.

All this is taking place against a backdrop of great concern among party members over the way issues concerning the Malays such as Islam and the Malay Royalty are being openly questioned.

Najib has to navigate a fine line to appease the right-wingers while trying to bring the party towards the centre where the bulk of the votes lie in the next general election. It remains to be seen whether his new team will be able to assist him or be a hindrance to him.

But for now, said Dr Ibrahim, Najib can give himself a pat on the back for putting in place a bold new system of election in his party that has been implemented with remarkably few road bumps.

And for many of those who won, their immediate concern will probably be whether the Prime Minister will include them in the Cabinet reshuffle that is widely expected in the months ahead.


The pettifogging Jakim

Posted: 19 Oct 2013 04:34 PM PDT

It is in Jakim's best interest that it focuses on its 'core' business, that of 'Islamic development', instead of attempting to act smart on issues like human rights.

Leading the 'hate the non-Malays' campaign is the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia, better known as Jakim, which has taken to inciting the Malays against the other races through the most despicable of ways, through the Friday sermons.

Jeswan Kaur, FMT

All religions are branches of one big tree – George Harrison

The Oct 4 court verdict that 'Allah' can no longer appear in the Herald weekly publication has revealed more than meets the eye. Not only was the ruling a gross abuse of the judiciary, the decision also exposed the deep-rooted hatred the Malay zealots have for the non-Malays.

Leading the 'hate the non-Malays' campaign is the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia, better known as Jakim, which has taken to inciting the Malays against the other races through the most despicable of ways, through the Friday sermons.

Post-the court ruling favouring Putrajaya in the Herad case, Jakim on Friday once again decided to play devil's advocate. This time, it  claimed human rights abuses never happened in Malaysia.

Instead, in its Friday sermon, Jakim said complaints of human rights abuses against Malaysia (read Barisan Nasional government) was actually part of a masquerade to further the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LGBT) agenda.

This move, claims Jakim, was all about undermining Islam and that there was an international conspiracy to challenge the position of Islam in the country and the local rights groups particularly Commango, a coalition of NGOs campaigning for LGBT rights, were acting as its agents.

"As of recently, there is a concerted plan undertaken by certain quarters on the name of human rights. It is undermining and challenging the principles of freedom allowed in Islam.

"It is not only moved by quarters in the country, but, with the advent of new media, these groups are getting the support of international liberal groups," read the sermon.

Is this Jakim's modus operandi of raising awareness on Islam among the people, by twisting and manipulating the religion to achieve its own interest?

Does Jakim not know that spreading lies via religion no less a sin, as it continues to do, trying to hoodwink the Malays into believing that the superiority of Islam is under threat?

And how does promoting human rights threaten Islam's standing, domestically and globally?

Threatening national harmony

Trying to dismiss the fact that Malaysia has no record of human rights abuses has only made Jakim a laughing stock, for its sheer desperation in trying to win brownie points from Putrajaya.

Or is Jakim being pressured to deliver the federal government's stand on Islam, using all means possible?

Where human rights abuse goes, the world knows that Malaysia holds a shameful record; human rights groups and international human rights watchdogs have time and again taken the BN government to task for failing to uphold the tenets of human rights, as enshrined both in the Federal Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948.

Jakim does not have the guts to admit that the government has turned the country's human rights commission Suhakam into a 'toothless tiger'.

Suhakam's many recommendations put forth by its first and second chairmen Musa Hitam and Abu Talib Othman respectively were never given due hearing by the government.

In 2008,  the accreditation sub-committee of the International Co-ordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institution (ICC) demanded justification from Suhakam on why the human rights body must not be downgraded from the 'A status to 'B'.

Had this been done, it would have deprived Suhakam of certain access privileges within the United Nations system.



Is the right to practise one’s religion absolute?

Posted: 19 Oct 2013 04:11 PM PDT

"Under Article 3(1) the practice of religion must not disturb peace and harmony." This is in addition to the restriction under Article 11(5) of the Federal Constitution that allows for regulation of religious practices on the ground of public order, public health or morality.

Mohamad Hafiz Hassan, TMI

Is the right to practise one's religion or belief absolute?

The Malaysian Bar certainly thinks so following its view that the words "in peace and harmony" in Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution in their ordinary meaning provide for the right of other religions to be practised unmolested and free of threats.

But such a view is tenable only if there is no distinction between the right to profess, have or adopt a belief and the right to practise or manifest a belief.

A reading of Prof Shad Faruqi's Document of Destiny: The Constitution of the Federation of Malaysia is instructive on this. At page 329 of the book, the widely respected constitutional scholar writes:

"Article 11(1) grants to all individuals protection in matters of conscience... "

Under this clause citizens as well as non-citizens have the right to three things:

·  to profess
·  to practise, and
·  subject to Article 11(4), to propagate their religion.

The first refers to beliefs and doctrines. The second refers to exhibitions of these beliefs through acts, practices and rituals. The third is about attempts at propagation and transmission of one's belief to others in order to convert them to one's faith. The law distinguishes between inner beliefs and overt acts. The right to beliefs and doctrines is generally regarded as absolute. Practice and propagation are, however, allowed by Article 11(5) to be regulated on the ground of public order, public health or morality." (Emphasis added).

Prof Shad Faruqi's reference to the distinction between inner beliefs and over acts mirrors another legal view that refers to the freedom of religion as consisting of freedom in two components:

·         the forum internum, and
·         the forum externum.

The first represents the right to profess, maintain, change, have, or adopt a religious belief. It relates to an individual's inner faith and conscience. The second, which is distinct from the first, is the freedom to manifest one's religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance (see for example, P Van Dijk and G J H Van Hoof, et. al., Theory and Practice of the European Convention of Human Rights, 1998).

International instruments on freedom of religions (such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or ICCPR, and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) provide for, and embrace, both the forum internum and forum externum.

Importantly, however, the freedom to manifest one's religion or belief (the forum externum) is not an absolute right [see Johan D. van der Vyver, 'Limitations on the Freedom of Religion or Belief: International Law Perspectives', 19 EMORY INT'L L. REV. 499, 505 (2005)]. The freedom to manifest one's religion or belief if often referred to as the more public freedom of religion. Because the public manifestation of religion has the potential to interfere with the rights of others or to pose a danger to society, it is not absolute. It is subject to limitation such as can be seen under Article 10 IPPR and Article 9 European Convention.

The above should suffice as a reply to the view that Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution provides for the right of other religions to be practised unmolested.



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