The Catholic church is on a collision course with Putrajaya over the use of the word ‘Allah’. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, January 1, 2014.The plan by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) to stop Christians from using the word “Allah” appears to be a plan to persecute the minority, said a Christian legal group.
Catholic Lawyers’ Society president Viola De Cruz Silva said there were no provisions in the Federal Constitution banning non-Muslims from propagating their religion among their community or to other non-Muslim communities or groups.
“Therefore, any intended letter from Jais to the churches in Selangor would be invalid,” she said in a statement.
In an interview with news portal The Malay Mail Online last week, newly appointed director of Jais Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad had said the religious authorities would draw up a list of Selangor churches before writing to ask them comply with the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation among Muslims) Enactment 1988.
“We will write to all the churches in Selangor to respect the law that is in force in relation to this,” he was quoted as saying.
The enactment, which was passed by the Barisan Nasional state government, prohibits non-Muslims in Selangor from using 35 Arabic words and phrases, including “Allah”, “Nabi” (prophet), “Injil” (gospel) and “Insya’Allah” (God willing).
Viola said Jais should be aware that it did not have a right to dictate to non-Muslims the practise of their religion.
She said it would amount to an infringement of a person’s freedom to practise his or her religion as enshrined in the Constitution.
“It would appear that there is a concerted effort to persecute the minority religion in this country. If true, this is indeed a sad state of affairs and does not augur well for Malaysia which is trying to portray itself as a moderate, progressive Muslim country and a leader of Muslim moderates,” she said.
The Catholic church has been on a collision course with Putrajaya over the use of the word “Allah”.
Many Islamist groups in Malaysia had insisted that the word “Allah” belonged exclusively to Muslims, although Christians and other faiths have argued otherwise.
In December 2009, the High Court made a landmark ruling in favour of the Catholic church, when it said “Allah” (God in Arabic) was not the exclusive right of Muslims and the Catholic weekly Herald could publish it in its Bahasa Malaysia section, which caters to its Sabah and Sarawak Bumiputera congregation.
This led to the Home Ministry appealing against the ruling in January 2010.
On October 14, 2013, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision, and said the ban was justified as “the word Allah was not integral to the practice of the Christian faith”.
The church’s leave application to appeal the appellate court’s decision will be heard on February 24.
The decision spooked Christians in Sabah and Sarawak as many felt the ban was not exclusive to Herald but was binding to all Christians.
This led to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak assuring Christians there that they could continue using the word and that the Federal Government will honour the 10-point solution.
Under the 10-point solution announced in 2011 by Datuk Idris Jala, it was agreed that Bibles in all languages could be imported into the country, including in Bahasa Malaysia or Indonesia.
The 10-point solution also states that Bibles can be printed locally in the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak.
The Court of Appeal decision also received worldwide attention, with respected American Muslim theologian Reza Aslan, among others, criticising the decision.
The debate on the matter continues, with theSun newspaper reporting on October 30 that the Bar Council was considering following in the footsteps of the Sabah Lawyers Association (SLA) and throwing its weight behind the Catholic weekly in the appeal process. This raised the ire of Muslim Lawyers Association, which opposed the move.