SHAH ALAM, July 3 — An evangelical church group is now being investigated for posting a Facebook message urging Christians to pray for the blessings of “Allah”, a word still in the center of a tug-of-war battle that has been threatening religious harmony in multiracial Malaysia.
Selangor PAS commissioner Dr Abd Rani Osman confirmed with The Malay Mail Online yesterday that the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) is investigating the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Malaysia (NECF), despite the state government’s earlier attempt at intervention.
“The state government proposed to take over to control the whole thing,” Rani said when approached on the sidelines of the Selangor state legislative assembly here.
“The state government doesn’t want to make this a big deal. But... according to JAIS, a complaint has been opened, so the investigation is on,” the Selangor PAS chief said.
Jalur Tiga (Jati), a group formed by former Selangor state lawmaker Datuk Hasan Ali who purports to champion Malay rights, had filed a police complaint against NECF on May 14, accusing the Christian group of attempting to convert Malays in a Facebook campaign.
“I saw the use of the word ‘Allah’in the picture was against the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 and Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, which makes it an offence,” Jati treasurer Noor Azizan Abdul Majid had told reporters after filing his report at the Shah Alam district police headquarters on May 14.
Religious tensions have been long been simmering in Malaysia in recent years, with the latest controversy surrounding a proposed law on child conversions to Islam deepening divisions between the Muslim majority and religious minorities.
The Muslim Lawyers Society of Malaysia (PPPMM) accused NECF last month of committing “criminal” sacrilege against Islam by misappropriating the word “Allah” for their purposes, despite a landmark High Court ruling in 2009 that the Middle Eastern word was not “exclusive”to Islam.
The NECF said in a response last month that its Facebook prayer campaign, which is called Malaysia MyHome, was just meant for Christians.
The umbrella body representing Malaysia’s evangelical churches added that the Bahasa Malaysia version of the campaign contained the word “Allah” for the benefit of its East Malaysian Bumiputera congregation.
More than 60 per cent of the country’s Christian population – estimated to total just under 2.8 million – are Malay-speaking Bumiputeras from Sabah and Sarawak.
One-third of Sabah and more than half of Sarawak residents profess the Christian faith.
But many have migrated across the South China Sea over the years in search for better jobs and livelihoods, bringing with them scriptures in their native languages with also contain the word “Allah” and starting up Bahasa Malaysia church services.
Rani stressed that it was “not proper” for JAIS to investigate NECF over the latter’s Facebook post, saying the Selangor state government wanted to have a dialogue with both JAIS and NECF on the issue.
“It’s not proper for JAIS to call the church,” said Rani. “We wanted to sit them both down and not make it a big issue.”
He added that he received information about the case from Sallehin Muhyi, the Selangor executive councillor in charge of Islamic affairs.
JAIS director Marzuki Hussin did not respond to calls or messages requesting comment.
NECF secretary-general Eugene Yapp declined comment.
But a lawyer familiar with the case said the Christian evangelical body had been advised against replying to JAIS.
“Eugene Yapp is the secretary-general of NECF. We advised him not to respond,” Annou Xavier told The Malay Mail Online last night.
Xavier, who is part of a legal group keeping a watch on issues affecting the minorities, said JAIS had issued a letter to NECF two weeks ago and a meeting was supposed to be held last week.
“But JAIS called it off,” he said.
The lawyer acknowledged that Section 10 of the same Islamic enactment cited by Jati empowers the state Islamic body to investigate anyone suspected of spreading non-Islamic creeds.
However, he argued that the Islamic law was not applicable to non-Muslims.
“It doesn’t concern us as non-Muslims,” Xavier said.
He said that if the NECF had entertained JAIS’ call for a meeting, it may set a “dangerous precedent” for non-Muslims to be hauled up on similar matters.
“We don’t want to set a precedent. It’s a dangerous precedent,” Xavier said.
JAIS had sparked controversy when it raided an evangelical church in Petaling Jaya in 2011 after receiving a complaint that Muslims were present at a dinner function there, sparking suspicions that Christians were attempting to proselytise Muslims.