Questions over ‘fatwa’ effect on non-Muslims after Selangor Sultan’s ‘Allah’ decree 

(The Malaysian Insider) – Christian church leaders have expressed concern over the effect of the Selangor Sultan’s royal decree banning followers of faiths other than Islam from using the word “Allah” to describe their gods.

The state Ruler had also instructed the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) and the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (JAIS) yesterday to take firm action against all groups, including non-Muslims, who continued to question the state fatwa (edict) and a 1988 state law restricting use of the Arabic word.

“Can a fatwa be applied to a non-Muslim?” asked Father Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the country’s sole Catholic newspaper, Herald, when contacted by The Malaysian Insider yesterday.

In December 2009, the High Court ruled that the word “Allah” was not restricted to Muslims and the Catholic Church had the right to published the word in the Malay section of its weekly newspaper, Herald.

The priest declined further comment, saying he would leave the question to be answered by legal experts, after pointing to a key issue raised in the Herald’s court challenge three years ago.

In her 2009 ruling, High Court judge Datuk Lau Bee Lan found that “a non-Muslim could be committing an offence if he uses the word ‘Allah’ to a Muslim but there would be no offence if it was used to a non-Muslim”.

Rev Hermen Shastri from the Methodist Church told The Malaysian Insider that the High Court’s judgment is still legally in effect pending the Home Ministry’s appeal to ban non-Muslims using the word, which it had argued in court was a security threat.

“Until overturned, Christians have the right to use it,” Shastri, who is secretary-general of the Council of Churches in Malaysia (CCM), an umbrella body representing all the Protestant churches nationwide.

CCM president Bishop Datuk Thomas Tsen told The Malaysian Insider he was worried about the consequences of the decree on Sabah and Sarawak Christians living in the state.

“Of course I am concerned about the effect on our people who live here, especially when Najib talks about 1 Malaysia and we want to speak in one language,” the Lutheran bishop said, referring to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s remarks.

Like Andrew, he declined comment on the Selangor sultan’s statement, but highlighted a 10-point agreement issued by the Najib administration in April 2011, allowing Christians in Borneo Malaysia the freedom to use it in their worship, ahead of the Sarawak state election.

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