We Will Keep On Using 'Allah' In Selangor Churches, Says Priest

Catholic churches in Selangor will continue to use the word Allah during its weekend services in Bahasa Malaysia despite the state’s Islamic Religious Department (Jais) intention to send them reminders on a 1988 state enactment prohibiting non-Muslims from using the word.

Catholic weekly Herald editor Rev Father Lawrence Andrew said Article 11(3) (A) of the Federal Constitution prescribes that every religious group has its right to manage its own religious affairs.

“Our religion cannot be managed by any Muslim group. It is against the Federal Constitution.

"We will continue to use the word Allah in our masses,” he told The Malaysian Insider today.

He said that Jais as an Islamic body has no jurisdiction over other religious bodies.

“At the moment, the case is still in court and no decision has been made yet. They can’t pre-empt this,” he added.

Aside from the Catholic church, other Christian churches, such as the Sidang Injil Borneo, also conduct services in Bahasa Malaysia and other native languages from East Malaysia, with the use of the word Allah.

In an interview with news portal The Malay Mail Online, newly-appointed Jais director Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad had said the Islamic authority would draw up a list of Selangor churches before writing letters asking them to comply with the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988.

“We will write letters 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 in their faith, including “Allah”, “Nabi” (prophet), “Injil” (gospel) and “Insya'Allah” (God willing).

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 belongs 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, which means 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 East Malaysian Bumiputera congregation.

This led to the Home Ministry appealing against the ruling in January 2010.

On October 14 this year, 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 in East Malaysia 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 can be imported into the country, including Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia.

The 10-point solution also states that bibles can be printed locally in Peninsular Malaysia, 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 the Sun newspaper reported 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 who strongly opposed the move.

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