Barely a month after the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, the recent Allah Judgment has raised many important questions for the founding of and the future of our country.
The first point of the 18 point Sarawak agreement and the 20 point Sabah (then North Borneo) agreement emphasized the freedom of religion that must be enjoyed by Sarawak and Sabah as minimum demands for the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.
It should be noted that in the Cobbold Commission Report of 1962, the views of the Chairman and the British members of the Commission were for the insertion into the state constitutions of Sabah and Sarawak a specific provision to guarantee the freedom of religion.
It should also be noted that the Malayan members of the Commission, Ghazali Shafie and Wong Pow Nee both agreed that while Islam would be the national religion for the Federation, they were ‘satisfied that the proposal in no way jeopardises freedom of religion in the Federation, which in effect would be secular’.
Given the importance of the freedom of religion to the peoples of Sabah and Sarawak, would there have been widespread support for the formation of the Federation of Malaysia if the Court of Appeal Allah judgment was the law of the land?
What would have been the reaction of the peoples of Sabah and Sarawak to the findings of the judgment prohibiting the usage of the word “Allah” in the Herald and that the usage of the name “Allah” is “not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity”?
Or would history have been overturned and Malaysia, as we know it today, comprising of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak not be in existence?
It must also be asked whether the founding fathers of Malaya – Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Dr. Ismail, Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tun V.T. Sambanthan – as well as the key leaders of Sarawak and Sabah – among them Temenggung Jugah, Ong Kee Hui and Donald Stephens – would have agreed even to the basis of the actions taken against the Catholic Herald newspaper on the usage of the word “Allah” by the Ministry of Home Affairs?
Or would they have recognized that such an action was a direct contravention of Article 11 of the Federal Constitution which protects the freedom of religion not only in Sabah and Sarawak but also the whole of Malaysia?
These questions reveal the extent the Court of Appeal judgment on the Allah case affects the constitutional rights of Malaysia but also the spirit of the founding of the Federation of Malaysia, the position of Sabah and Sarawak within the Federation of Malaysia and the rights enjoyed by the peoples of Sabah and Sarawak as spelt out in the Federal Constitution and as described in the Cobbold Commission Report.
This is a time when all Malaysians must exercise great responsibility and leadership to unite Malaysians regardless of race, religion or region in greater harmony and solidarity instead of further dividing them.