Monday, January 13, 2014

'Sultan's decree irrelevant to non-Muslim faiths'

11:37AM Jan 11, 2014

A sultan's decree concerning the faiths of the non-Muslim community is not relevant and therefore should not apply, says constitutional expert Abdul Aziz Bari.

This, he said, is because the decree cannot tell non-Muslims how they should manage their own religious affairs.

He was commenting on last year's decree by the Selangor sultan which banned the word 'Allah' for non-Muslims, and used by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department to justify confiscating bibles using the word 'Allah'.

"In this matter, I think that the decree is irrelevant - be it in the context of Selangor or any other states whether they have a sultan or not, if not then it will be the Yang Dipertuan Agong's decree.

"It only applies to Muslims. It cannot interfere or tell other (religious communities) such as Hindus or Buddhists on how they should worship.

"So the decree - I'm sorry to say - cannot apply. I think it has crossed the line," he told a forum entitled 'The polemic of 'Allah' and Bible seizure: Between law and religious sensitivity' organised by the Lembah Pantai PAS Youth in Kuala Lumpur last night.

Aziz Bari added even though Article 149 of the federal constitution allows Parliament to create laws inconsistent with fundamental liberties (Article 5, 9, 10, 13) in the interest of public order, freedom of religion ,Article 11 is an exception and does not fall within those provisions limiting fundamental rights.

'Freedom of religion'

"This is the signal that the practise of religion cannot be touched," he said.

He added that under the constitution non-Muslims cannot propagate their religion to Muslims but the religious affairs of non-Muslims is off limits.

As such, Abdul Aziz claims that Christian use of the word Allah will affect public order must be backed by evidence and cannot simply be given based on assumptions.

"I say this because this is one of the grounds of judgment by the Court of Appeal which banned (Christian publication) The Herald from using the word 'Allah'," he said.

However, Abdul Aziz acknowledged that a law had indeed been passed banning non-Muslims using the word 'Allah'  in the form the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988.

"It has been more than 25 year, a quarter of a century, why is it being enforced so efficiently now?" he said.

He defended Selangor Menteri Besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim over Jais' raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia and confiscation of bibles using the word 'Allah' on Jan 2.

Abdul Aziz pointed out that there was a tendency for state religious authorities to run rampant in states operated by the federal opposition as similar incident happened in Kelantan in the 1990s.

He added that the Selangor sultan had also not acted when mosques were demolished under the previous BN administration but had come up with the decree banning non-Muslims use of the word Allah in the subsequent administration.

"I am not saying the sultan is wrong, I am just pointing out facts," he said.

As such, he said all these factors has put the menteri besar in a difficult situation.

East Malaysians clear-minded about 'Allah'

Several East Malaysians residing in Klang Valley among the multi-racial audience at the forum shared their concerns over their right to use of the word 'Allah'.

"If today the Bible Society of Malaysia can be raided, in future we could also be raided while worshipping.

"I have always been using the word 'Allah' when in Sabah and in my 14 years in the peninsula, I hear Muslims pray five times a day in the name of 'Allah' had I have not been confused.

"If you say Muslims would be confused, then wouldn't (East Malaysians) Christians also be in a difficult position?" asked a Sabahan in the audience.

The Jais raid came in the wake of a Court of Appeal decision which banned The Herald from using the word 'Allah', arguing that the word is "not integral to the Christian faith".

Even though this decision was pursued by the federal government, it has insisted that East Malaysia can continue to use the word and that the ruling only applies to Peninsular Malaysia.

However, Abdul Aziz rubbished this, saying regardless of what the prime minister or the attorney-general say, the Court of Appeal ruling is the authoritative law and it is far-reaching.

"Even if the judges who made the ruling say tomorrow that he have decided wrongly, the ruling still stands," he said, adding that it can only be overturned by a higher court.

Also present at the forum were National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia (NECF) Eugene Yapp and PAS' Parit Buntar MP Mujahid Yusof Rawa who is also a member of the National Unity Consultative Council set up by the government.
~ Malaysiakini

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