Religion and the law



The Jais raid on the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia has put into focus the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of Selangor.

Roger Tan, The Star

non islamic religions control chart as on 120114

THE Jan 2 raid by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) on the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), in which 331 copies of Malay and Iban Bibles were seized, has brought to national attention a piece of state legislation hitherto unknown to many Malaysians – the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of Selangor (Selangor Enactment).

So far, Jais has argued they were empowered to do so under Section 9 (1) of the Selangor Enactment, which prohibits any non-Muslim to use in writing or speech any of 25 words or any of their derivatives and variations, as stated in Part 1 of the Schedule, pertaining to a non-Islamic religion.

The 25 words are Allah, Firman Allah, Ulama, Hadith, Ibadah, Kaabah, Kadi, Ilahi, Wahyu, Mubaligh, Syariah, Qiblat, Haj, Mufti, Rasul, Iman, Dakwah, Injil, Salat, Khalifah, Wali, Fatwa, Imam, Nabi andSheikh.

Section 9 (2) also prohibits a non-Muslim to use 10 expressions of Islamic origin set out in Part II of the Schedule, including Alhamdulillah and Insyallah.

Non-Muslims can, however, use the words and expressions by way of quotation or reference.

Jais contended that Section 9 (1) had been contravened because the Malay and Iban Bibles contain the word “Allah”. Further, they were entitled to arrest without warrant the BSM chairman, lawyer Lee Min Choon, and manager Sinclair Wong as section 11 provides that all offences and cases under the Selangor Enactment are deemed to be seizable offences and cases under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), that is, offenders of seizable offences can be arrested without any warrant of arrest.

A fortiori, as this is a law passed by a state legislature, it has the force of law and quite rightly it can, therefore, override the 10-point solution decided by the Federal Cabinet and communicated via the Prime Minister’s letter dated April 11, 2011 to the Christian Federation of Malaysia.

Apart from section 9, the Selangor Enactment also makes it an offence for any non-Muslim to:

> influence or incite any Muslim to change his faith (Section 4);

> subject any Muslim minor to influences of a non-Islamic religion (Section 5);

> approach any Muslim to subject him to any speech on or display of any matter concerning a non-Islamic religion (Section 6);

> send or deliver any publications concerning any non-Islamic religion to a Muslim (Section 7); and

> distribute in a public place any publications concerning a non-Islamic religion to a Muslim (Section 8).

To date, 10 states have passed similar enactments with almost identical provisions except for the penalties and the words and expressions stated in the Schedule (see the table). Effective July 20, 2007, Kelantan has imposed the most stringent punishment, which includes mandatory whipping for all offences. The Johor State Enactment does not contain any schedule, but it imposes a blanket ban on the use of any “words of Islamic origin”.

There is no equivalent federal law for the federal territories except for section 5 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act, 1997 (Act 559) which makes it an offence for any person to proselytise a Muslim to a non-Islamic religion. Act 559 has no similar provision like section 9.

In fact, in October 1999, then Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, who was also Marang MP, tried but failed abysmally to move a private member’s bill titled the Control and Restriction of Propagation of Non-Muslim Religions (Federal Territories) Bill at the Federal parliament.

It is interesting to note that the attempt received vociferous opposition from Barisan Nasional parliamentarians, especially the non-Muslims. This was rather a risible response because, at that time, similar enactments had already been passed in nine states (other than Perlis), including those governed by Barisan unless the non-Muslim state legislators had been caught unawares.

To the best of my knowledge, only one person has been prosecuted and convicted under such law. Krishnan a/l Muthu was charged in 2002 and convicted under Section 4 of the Pahang State Enactment for trying to convert a Muslim to Hinduism and was fined RM1,500 and jailed for 20 days (Public Prosecutor v. Krishnan a/l Muthu (Magistrate Case No. MA-83-146-2002)).

Further, no such similar enactment has been passed in Penang, Sabah and Sarawak. However, a fatwa with regard to certain words being exclusive to the Muslims may have been issued under the Administration of Religion of Islam (State of Penang) Enactment 2004 but it does not bind the non-Muslims.