Malaysia

Allah decision binding on all Malaysians, says retired AG Abu Talib

BY V. ANBALAGAN, ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
October 19, 2013

All Malaysians are bound by the Court of Appeal ruling on the Allah issue, says former attorney general Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman (pic), who is puzzled that Putrajaya believes the controversial judgment does not affect Christians in Sabah and Sarawak.

The appellate court agreed that the Home Minister could ban the word Allah in the Catholic weekly Herald, but two Cabinet ministers had insisted the decision did not include the Al-Kitab, the Bahasa Malaysia bible widely used in Sabah and Sarawak, and other Christian publications in East Malaysia.

"It has the effect of a binding precedent and all have to respect that decision, whether you agree or disagree," he told The Malaysian Insider, adding it was binding until set aside by the country's highest court, the Federal Court.

Abu Talib, who was the chief legal adviser to the government for 13 years from 1980, said there could be no two sets of law when "we have one nation and one supreme constitution".

"So, there cannot be exemptions given to Sabah and Sarawak on this religious issue based on region or state," he said.

Abu Talib said this in response to Cabinet ministers Tan Sri Joseph Kurup and Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili who had taken the position that Christians in the Borneo states were not affected by the appellate court ruling on Monday and could use the word in their religious practices.

The Muslim Lawyers' Association of Malaysia had also weighed in on the issue, saying the ban only applied to the Bahasa Malaysia section of the Herald.

Abu Talib said the central issue decided was whether people and institutions other than Muslims could use the word.

"The Court of Appeal has made a finding that the name Allah is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity and, by that extension, the word is exclusive to Islam and Muslims," he said.

Abu Talib, who was Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) chair after retiring as AG, said in view of sensitivity of the issue, the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, Tun Arifin Zakaria, must give priority to this case which is of public interest.

"If not properly handled, this hot issue will give rise to further controversies as we live in multi-racial and multi-religious society," he said.

He said the matter must be brought to a finality and once the issue had been decided, "all must move forward".

"The position of Islam as the religion of the Federation and freedom of other religions could come under scrutiny if the merit of the appeal was heard in the apex court.

"It boils down to freedom of non-Muslims to practice their faith and any decision under the Federal Constitution binds all, irrespective of state and region," he said.

Abu Talib said there were irresponsible comments and responses following the Court of Appeal ruling with some bordering on contempt of court.

"You can criticise the judgment but there is limit to it. At the end of the day, the independence and integrity of the judiciary must be maintained and observed," he added. – October 19, 2013.