God and Allah in Malaysia

Asia Sentinel 

“Judges in High Court have been giving very independent judgments that have been overturned by the Court of Appeal. So let’s wait and see whether this will happen again.” 

A justice’s ruling goes against the government  

The decision by Malaysian High Court Justice Lau Bee Lan giving the Catholic Herald newspaper the right to use the word Allah to represent God in its Malay-language edition has been met with jubilation among the country’s 850,000-odd Catholics and outrage on the part of Muslims. As many as 10,000 protesters had signed onto a Facebook group page objecting to the Dec. 31 judgment. 

A flock of United Malay National Organization politicians have got into the act as well, including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamd and his son Mukhriz as well as former Selangor Chief Minister Mohamad Khir Toyo and others. Moderates including Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim are being called traitors to Islam for agreeing withg the decision, which is all but certain to be appealed to a higher court by the government as soon as possible and, if past practice is any gauge, a stay of execution will probably be granted.

The decision by Justice Lau, however, focuses attention on another matter entirely, and that is the growing independence of Malaysia’s lower courts to issue decisions contrary to the government after nearly three decades. Her decision against the government followed another major one in May 2008 when High Court Judge Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahim ruled that Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, who headed the opposition in the state, was wrongly removed as the chief minister of the northern state of Perak. Najib Tun Razak, then the deputy prime minister, engineered the defection of three lawmakers from the national opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat, bringing the government to a halt in a 28-28 tie.

In that case, Judge Abdul Aziz ruled that Perak Sultan Raja Azlan Shah did not have the power to order Nizar to vacate his position as chief minister and instead to install Zambry Abdul Kadir, a longtime Umno stalwart, in his place. An appellate court almost immediately stayed the decision. It is still being fought out in court.