Sunday, January 05, 2014
Now that his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has given his nod to Selangor Umno’s plan to protest at all churches in Selangor over the use of the word “Allah”, he must remind Muhyiddin of the Cabinet’s 10-point solution. That solution was announced by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Idris Jala on 2 April 2011 and reiterated by Najib himself in Kota Kinabalu on 21 October 2013.
Indeed, the prime minister, who professes to be a moderate and launched a Global Movement of Moderates, should have come out to object to the heavy-handed raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) premises on 2 January. On that day, Jais (Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor) officers accompanied by two policemen seized over 300 copies of the Alkitab and Bup Kudus, the Bible in the Malay language and Iban language respectively, while two BSM officials were arrested by the police and told to report to Jais later.
The newly appointed Jais director Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad has claimed that he wanted to remind churches of the provisions of the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988.
The enactment, 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).
If this was his intention why did his officers then resort to a raid? In fact, the new Jais director had started his tenure by declaring that the religious department would begin compelling churches in Selangor to comply with the 1988 Enactment, particularly on the usage of the word Allah.
The Majlis Agama Islam Selangor (Mais), to which Jais is answerable, is a body established by statute, under section 4 of the Administration of the Religion of Islam (state of Selangor) Enactment 2003. Under Section 6, the function of Mais is to aid and advise the Sultan; and it is the chief authority under the Sultan on matters of Islam (but not on Islamic Law) in the state.
It appears, therefore, that Mais' – and by extension, Jais' - powers, functions, the limits of these and how they are to be construed are all matters of statutory construction according to common law and statutory principles. Mais, however, may determine its jurisdiction for itself; nonetheless, it must do so within the walls of this statute. Certainly, Mais cannot act as it likes - for a statute is an instrument of the state legislature, and its workings must be congruent with the state constitution and the federal constitution too.
Meanwhile Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein has blamed the tensions on “certain quarters” (i.e. the Christians) who have refused to accept the court's decision. In October, the Court of Appeal decided that The Herald could not use the word Allah in its Malay edition as the usage of the word Allah was not an integral part of the Christian faith. Christians and their supporters, however, consider the court ruling to have violated the letter and spirit of a 10-point cabinet decision.
In fact, the legal dispute between the government and the Catholic Church over its right to print the word Allah in the Herald’s Bahasa Malaysia section is still pending before the Federal Court. The highest court in the land is set to hear arguments from both sides on 24 February before deciding whether it will hear an appeal by the Catholic Church.
4 January 2014