25 banned words: Silence of the minority


by Terence Fernandez

When the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment was passed by the State Legislative Assembly on April 4, 1988, the only two voices that represented the minorities were two DAP assemblymen.

Despite earlier contentions that non-Muslim BN representatives “objected” to the enactment which prohibits non-Muslims from using 25 Arabic words including “Allah”, the Hansard of the proceedings shows that these representatives were silent as the enactment went through in a day.

The DAP representatives faced down a full block of 37 BN assemblymen in the House, with hardly a sigh from MCA and MIC representatives.

MCA was represented by Datuk Yap Pian Hon, Datuk Wong Ah Taih, Datuk Tang See Hang, Datuk Ng Thian Hock, Datuk Ng Soon Por, Datuk Eng Hoi Choo, Tong Yoke Seng and Sim Keng Seik.

MIC representatives in attendance were Datuk TM Thurai, Datuk M Mahalingam and Datuk M Sellathevan.

The only absentee was then opposition leader Datuk Dr Tan Seng Giaw.

Other DAP reps in attendance were Dr Tan’s wife Dr Oon Hong Geok, Chan Kok Kit, M Madhavan Nair and Tan Sin Piau.

The session which was presided by speaker Datuk Saidin Tamby was also attended by state secretary Datuk Sulaiman Osman, state legal advisor Mohtar Abdullah (who went on to become Attorney General) and state financial officer Abdullah Kuntom.

‘Mike Tyson’ threw the first punch

THEN Mentri Besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib tabled the motion for the enactment where he cited Article 11 (4) of the Federal Constitution to control and prohibit the propagation of non-Muslim faiths among Muslims.

Aside from making it an offence to use those words, he also proposed that the enactment creates offences to punish those who coerce, convince, influence and encourage Muslims to convert. This also includes exposing Muslim minors to other religions.

The enactment is also intended to control the distribution of non-Muslim literature in public places.

Dr Oon protested the late notice of the enactment and members of the House were not given sufficient time to study the proposal.

She noted a similar Federal enactment was being pushed through in Parliament in 1986 but that attempt was derailed following opposition by the Interfaith Council comprising representatives from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Sikh faiths.

Dr Oon went on to discuss the origins of the terminology “Allah” and its wide use among Christians and Sikhs, as “Allah” is contained in the Holy Book of the latter.

She also said banning other words such as “Injil” (Bible); “iman” (faith) and “mubaligh” (missionary) would raise problems as these are Arabic words that are used widely by all faiths.

“I believe Islam does not prohibit the usage of these words among non-Muslims. No other country in the world has such restrictions,” said the Taman Aman assemblywoman, adding that if the proposal is made law, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka will have a tough time looking for words to replace the 25 words non-Muslims are prohibited from using.

She also noted that the enactment seemed to be directed at Christians.

“This is very confusing especially when the Prime Minister (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) had at an international seminar on Islamic unity rubbished claims that Muslims were being converted to Christianity.

“The Prime Minister said there was no proof of this, other than Muslim converts who returned to their original faith as they were disappointed with something.

“This statement was made in September (1985), so in such a short time what has happened to compel the Selangor Government to enforce this enactment?” she asked.

What about propagation among non-Muslims?

Dr Oon also took a swipe at the proposed law as being lopsided as it punishes those who expose minors to non-Islamic religions, whereas they had been several cases of non-Muslim minors who were “kidnapped” and converted.

She was supported by fellow-DAP representative for Damansara Utama Madhavan Nair who cited a case of a Chinese student who was converted by his teacher.

“Even academic discourse and comparative studies on religions which are contained in certain syllabus of local institutions of higher learning will be restricted,” he said.