Zaid: Ignoring Sultan's 'Allah' decree is not treason

Zaid said it must first be established if the decree is binding.
Zaid said it must first be established if the decree is binding.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 17 — Muslim hardliners here have insisted it would be treasonous to ignore the Selangor Sultan’s “Allah” decree but a former Umno law minister believes otherwise, and even doubts that the ruler’s order is legally binding on non-Muslims.

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, a known critic of groups like Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA) and Perkasa, said an act of treason typically means leading a rebellion against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or any state ruler, for whatever reason.

“There is a specific definition under the Penal Code for treason: if you lead an armed rebellion against the King or Sultan, then that’s treason.

“Not following the decree is not treason,” Zaid told The Malay Mail Online.

He added that Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah’s blanket ban on the use of “Allah” in the state may not apply to non-Muslims as Islamic laws or religious edicts are only legally binding on Muslims.

Zaid also questioned if a royal decree is considered a law and argued that even if this was the case, the order contravenes the Federal Constitution, which states that non-Muslims cannot be bound by any Islamic laws.

ISMA yesterday claimed that non-Muslims would be committing treason if they dared to disobey the Selangor Sultan’s decree banning their use of “Allah”, in apparent warning against attempts to challenge the exclusive right of Muslims to use the Arabic term for God.

ISMA deputy president Aminuddin Yahaya said the blanket ban by Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah must be respected by all Selangor folk in light of his position as the state’s ruler and highest religious authority.

But Zaid said it must first be established if the decree is binding.

“Is the decree law? Even if it is law, it cannot be applicable on non-Muslims. How can you make an Islamic law and apply it on non-Muslims?” he said.

The maverick politician had taken to Twitter yesterday to scoff at ISMA’s claim, even openly telling the Islamist group not to be bullies.

“ISMA dont bully people la. Its not treason not to follow decree,” he had said in a posting.

He earned a reply from renowned lawyer and human rights activist Datuk Ambiga Sreenavasan who tweeted, “@zaidibrahim There is a new extremist kid on the block. There seems to be a highly organised plot to irritate us on a daily basis.”

Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah had on Thursday renewed his decree barring the Arabic word for God to all non-Muslims in the country’s wealthiest state and for an immediate stop to usage in the Malay language Bible al-Kitab and the Catholic weekly, Herald, in a move set to complicate Putrajaya’s bid to calm east Malaysian unease over the religious row.

The decree is also set to revive a longstanding and confusing debate on the jurisdiction overlap between the country’s civil and syariah legal system.

In Selangor’s case, the Sultan’s decree could be binding as the Selangor Non-Islamic Religion (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 applies to every religion or race.

But as Zaid pointed out, the Federal Constitution states that only Muslims can be governed by syariah laws.

Asked if this meant that non-Muslims in Selangor should ignore the decree, Zaid refused comment but said:

“All I’m saying is that even if the decree is law, it cannot be applicable to non-Muslims. If that is the state law then it is against the Constitution. Because it is state law doesn’t mean it can’t be challenged”.

In October, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Home Ministry’s decision to ban the use of the word in the Herald was justified, as the use of the word “Allah” was not integral to the practice of the Christian faith.

The ruling — which overturned an earlier High Court decision that the ban was unconstitutional — has since sparked confusion over the use of the word by Christians in their worship, especially with conflicting opinions within the government itself on how far the ruling would affect practising Christians.

Putrajaya had insisted that the ruling was restricted to Herald but detractors believed otherwise.

With the Sultan’s decree that non-Muslims cannot use “Allah” not only in their newspaper, but also in nearly all aspects of their religious life, there were questions if the blanket ban could override the Court of Appeal’s decision.

Legal observers have now called for Putrajaya’s immediate clarification on the matter.

Since the ruling, churches in Sabah and Sarawak have become more vocal in pressing for their right to use the term that they say is entrenched in the 20- and 18-point agreements with the two states, insisting they will continue their age-old practice of referring to God as “Allah” in their worship and in their holy scriptures.

Bumiputera Christians are said to number around 1.6 million and have been using the word “Allah” in the national language and their native tongues for centuries for the practice of their religion.

Peninsular Malaysia is also host to large pockets of Christians from Sabah and Sarawak who have moved here in search of employment and formed local communities in several states.

With them, they have brought their style of worship and the Al-Kitab Malay-language bibles that also contained the word “Allah”.

In 2011, the Cabinet decided on a 10-point solution allowing Christians in Sabah and Sarawak to keep using the Al-Kitab, but it is unclear if that also meant they may do so when they are in the peninsula.

Several ministers also said recently that the 10-point solution issued by Putrajaya in 2011 — which allows the printing, importation and distribution of the Al-Kitab, the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Christian bible, containing the word “Allah” — should stand, despite the appellate court ruling.

The Catholic Church has since appealed to the country’s top court this week for clarity on the religious row that has drawn deep lines between Malaysia’s non-Muslim minorities and its 60 per cent Muslim population.

The Allah row erupted in 2008 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the Herald’s newspaper permit, prompting the Catholic Church to sue the government for violating its Constitutional rights.

In 2009, the High Court here upheld the Catholic Church’s constitutional right to use the word “Allah”, shocking Muslims who considered the word to only refer to the Muslim God.

According to a 2010 census, Muslims are Malaysia’s largest religious group, followed by Buddhists. Christians are the third largest at 2.6 million, which comes up to about 10 per cent of the entire Malaysian population.

Bumiputera Christians, who form about 64 per cent or close to two-thirds of the Christian community in Malaysia, have used the word “Allah” when praying and speaking in the national language and their native tongues for centuries.

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