Allah issue: States have rights under federal constitution

Mohd Noor Abdullah

(Bernama) – A former Court of Appeal judge has called on the Muslims  and Christian communities to stop their debates on the controversial Allah issue, saying neither groups understood nor were well versed with state and federal laws.

Ex-judge Mohd Noor Abdullah said the provisions in the Federal Constitution allowed a Muslim to preach the teachings of his religion among non-Muslims, while a non-Muslim was permitted to preach the teachings of his religion or beliefs among people or followers of other faiths, with the exception of Muslims.

He noted Article 11 of the Federal Constitution stated that every individual had the right to profess, practise and preach his religion or belief.

“However, Article 11 (4) of the same constitution states that the propagation of non-Islamic religions among Muslims is forbidden.

“Therefore, Article 11(4) has given the state authority through the State Legislature to enact laws to control the propagation of non Islamic religions or beliefs to Muslims,” he said.

Mohd Noor said this meant that a state government had the authority to restrict the propagation of any religion, creed, ideology or even belief that represented partially non-Islamic teaching in any form.

Explaining further, he said Section 9 (1) of the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of Selangor prohibited any non-Muslim from using, in writing or in speech, any of 25 words as stated in Part 1 of the Schedule, pertaining to a non-Islamic religion.

“A person commits an offence if using the word, Allah and other Arabic words namely Firman Allah, Ulama, Hadith, Ibadah, Kaabah, Kadi, Ilahi, Wahyu, Mubaligh, Syariah, Qiblat, Haj, Mufti, Rasul, Iman, Dakwah, Injil, Salat, Khalifah, Wali, Fatwa, Imam, Nabi and Sheikh,” he said.

Section 9 (2) also prohibits a non-Muslim from using 10 expressions of Islamic origin set out in Part II of the Schedule, including Alhamdulillah,  Insyallah, Allahu Akbar, Astaghfirllahal Amin and Masya Allah.

Similar enactments in 10 states

Apart from section 9, Mohd Noor said the Selangor Enactment also made 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).

Others clauses are approaching 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 publication concerning any non-Islamic religion to a Muslim (Section 7); and distribute in a public place any publication concerning a non-Islamic religion to a Muslim (Section 8).

Mohd Noor said to date, 10 states had passed similar enactments with almost identical provisions, except for the penalties, words and expressions.

He cited that Kelantan had imposed the most stringent punishment, which included mandatory whipping for all offences while the Johor State Enactment did not contain any schedule, but it imposed a blanket ban on the use of any “words of Islamic origin”.

“In other words, by law, certain words and expressions belong exclusively to the Islamic religion. There is no problem if such words are indeed, not used by other religions.

“Therefore, the Selangor Enactment does not create syariah offences but civil offences, which means the case will be tried in civil courts and not syariah courts, which have jurisdiction only on Muslims,” he said.

Mohd Noor also noted that religious matters which fell under the jurisdiction of the states, must be dealt with utmost sensitivity, so that no action hurt the feelings of any race in the country.

“That is why the Cabinet comes up with the 10-point-solution, which had allowed Christians to use ‘Allah’ in the Bahasa Malaysia Bible. It also allows bibles in all languages to, not only be imported into the country, but to be printed locally in the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.

The ‘Allah’ controversy dates back to a 2009 High Court ruling which upheld the Catholic Church’s constitutional right to use the word in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its weekly, The Herald.

The issue resurfaced early this month, following a raid by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) on the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), seizing some 300 copies of Malay and Iban-language Bibles and detaining two BSM officials.

Legal dispute

Tensions, especially between Christian and Muslim communities, have simmered following the Oct 14 ruling last year by the Court of Appeal, on the usage of the word, ‘Allah’ in the Bahasa version of The Herald. The ruling was seen as a ban on the word ‘Allah’ to all non-Muslims.

The legal dispute between the government and the Catholic Church is still pending before the Federal Court, which will hear the case on Feb 24.

Meanwhile, Umno Youth Exco and Islamic scholar Dr Fathul Bari Mat stressed missionary or Islamic teachings should fulfill three criteria, namely Constitution, Islamic law (‘hukum Islam’) and local sensitivities, respectively.

“Although no one can be stopped from exercising fundamental rights, they still have options. For Islam, we have no choice expect to use the word, ’Allah’, but for Christians, they can opt using ‘Lord’ or God’ or ‘Jesus’ to depict their God.

“But in this case, they insist in using the word, ‘Allah’ which had misled the Muslims and caused sensitivities and disharmony among the Muslim community,” he said.

He also cited India’s Supreme Court decision to uphold a ban imposed by the Gujarat state government on the slaughter of cows in 2005, and was of the view that Malaysians too, should stay away from highly sensitive issues so as not to hurt the feelings, beliefs and practices of others.