PUTRAJAYA – The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Catholic weekly, The Herald, will not be allowed to use the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia edition.

A three-member panel, led by Federal court Judge Mohamed Apandi Ali unanimously ruled in favour of the Government’s appeal to set aside the 2009 decision of a High Court which had allowed the publication’s use of the word. (“Use of ‘Allah’ issue: Court rules in favour of Govt,” The Star/Asia News Network, Tuesday, Oct 15, 2013, asiaONE, Malaysia, https://tinyurl.com/ppc4kex)

The recent judgement by the Court of Appeal in Malaysia to ban a Catholic newsletter from using the word “Allah” has dismayed Christians in Malaysia. Here is the reaction from a Christian politician:

Article 11 of the federal constitution, the supreme law of the federation, guarantees that every person is allowed to profess his or her religion in peace and harmony. This includes the freedom and right to propagate and practice subject to the sanction against preaching to Muslims if provided for under the state enactments or ordinances.

The use of the word ‘Allah’ is an intrinsic part and parcel of the practice of Christians and disallowing the use of ‘Allah’ is clearly a fundamental breach of our constitutional rights. I am aware that this decision is against The Herald magazine, but in our legal system it is now a legal precedent for any similar case anywhere in Malaysia. (Full article: https://tinyurl.com/pe3b6gp)

If Christians feel that they have been treated unjustly because of political expediency, well this is hardly the first time that followers of Jesus have suffered at the hands of those more concerned for political expediency than for truth.

During the summer of the year 64, the emperor Nero sometimes lit up his garden at night by setting fire to a few fully conscious Christians who had been covered with wax and then impaled high on poles forced up their rectums. Nero also had Christians killed by wild animals in the arena, and he even crucified a few. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, Nero did these atrocities to escape blame for the great fire that had destroyed parts of the city of Rome . . . (Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity [New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2011], 137.)

And we follow a Saviour who was given the death penalty because His judge, fully aware of His innocence, caved in to political pressure.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:4–12 NIV)

Pilate’s decision led to Jesus’s execution on the cross. It led to evil’s greatest victory and its greatest defeat. Therefore followers of Jesus should not be too quick to judge whether something is “good” or “bad” in the larger scheme of things. If we truly believe that God is sovereign and all wise, we really need to believe that He knows what He is doing. In the words of that famous theologian Bob Dylan:

Don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times, they are a-changin’
(“The times they are a-changing,” Bob Dylan, 1964.)

We should still challenge this unjust ruling. We need to do what we can to hold the government and the courts responsible to uphold the letter and the spirit of the constitution. Regardless of the outcome of our quest however, we continue to trust the Lord. He knows what He is doing, though sometimes we may not. But we know Allah. He can be trusted. We will continue to trust Him and do good. (Psalm 37:3).