Selangor Cannot Stop Christians From Using ‘Allah’, Says Non-Muslim Group

Selangor religious authorities cannot enforce a state law which prohibits Christians from using the word “Allah” as the legislation was declared unconstitutional by the courts four years ago.

Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikkhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) president Jagir Singh said the 2009 decision by High Court judge Datuk Lau Bee Lan ruled that non-Muslims could use words like “Allah” provided it was confined to their own religious groups.

"It is only an offence by non-Muslims to use such words to propagate their religion to Muslims," he told The Malaysian Insider.

The Federal Constitution does not allow the propagation of any other faith to Muslims but there are also state Islamic laws that prohibit some words from being used by other faiths.

Among the laws is an enactment restricting the use of the word “Allah” passed in the Selangor assembly 25 years ago and enforced in July 1988.

The Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) has cited the law when announcing the prohibition for other faiths.

Jagir said 10 states, including Selangor, had passed enactments to stop non-Muslims from using between 18 and 25 words, one of which was “Allah”.

"We took a strong stand in 1988 as it was a clear interference in the religious practice of non-Muslims.”

He said all states had identical legislation barring non-Muslims from using words exclusive to Muslims.

Jagir said Lau had ruled that the enactment to prevent non-Muslims from using words like “Allah” was unconstitutional as it was contrary to Article 11 (4) of the Federal Constitution.

Article 11 (4) states that state and federal law could only control or restrict the propagation of religious doctrines or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.

On December 31, 2009, in a landmark ruling, Lau allowed the Catholic church's judicial review application and lifted the home minister's ban on the use of the word “Allah” in the Herald.

Lau had said that the church had a constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in its weekly on the grounds that religions other than Islam could be practised in peace and harmony.

However, the Court of Appeal on October 14 allowed Putrajaya's appeal to ban the use of “Allah” in the Herald.

A three-member bench headed by Datuk Seri Mohamed Apandi Ali ruled that the prohibition was to protect the sanctity of Islam and prevent any confusion among Muslims.

He also said that if the word was allowed to be used by Christians, it could threaten national security and public order.

The appellate court said the prohibition was reasonable on the grounds that the word Allah was not an integral part of the Christian faith and practice.

However, Jagir said the Court of Appeal did not consider the legal position of the state enactments as discussed by Lau in her judgment.

"The Court of Appeal set aside the High Court order on different grounds (national security) but did not consider the prohibition which Lau had declared unconstitutional," Jagir said in response to Jais' move to send a letter to churches in Selangor to remind them to obey a 1988 state law banning non-Muslims from using the word “Allah”.

Jais director Ahmad Mohd Saad said the Islamic authority would draw up a list of Selangor churches before sending letters seeking their compliance with the enactment.

Jagir said Jais had no locus standi to issue directives to churches and other non-Muslim denominations because the Constitution allowed each religious group to manage its own affairs.

Meanwhile, the former president of the Catholic Lawyers Society, Joy Wilson Apukuttan, said Jais’ move could pave the way for another legal challenge in court.

"They are acting beyond their authority," he said.

He said Pakatan Rakyat (PR), which currently administered Selangor, should take proactive steps to diffuse the situation.

"Perhaps, PR should amend the state enactment which encroached into the rights of non-Muslims," he said.

Utusan Malaysia had earlier this week claimed that a Christian group known as the International Full Gospel Fellowship had held a closed-door function at an unnamed hotel in Klang and purportedly sang songs containing the word “Allah”.

The Umno-controlled Malay daily further reported that a board in the hotel lobby had featured the words: “International Full Gospel Fellowship: keluarga Allah satelit Nilai dan satelit Puchong, dari dalam gelap akan terbit terang”(“God’s family, Nilai and Puchong satellites, Light will shine strong from the darkness.”)

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