Jais flexes muscles over non-Muslim usage of 'Allah'

Members of Perkasa and other Muslim NGOs outside the Court of Appeal, September 10, 2013. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Members of Perkasa and other Muslim NGOs outside the Court of Appeal, September 10, 2013. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 27 — Churches in Selangor would soon receive letters reminding them to obey a 1988 state law banning non-Muslims from using the word “Allah”, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) said.

This will test the extent of the Federal Constitution's guarantees to Malaysia's minority groups.

Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad, the newly-appointed Jais director, said that the Islamic authority will gather a list of Selangor churches, before penning 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 said when contacted by The Malay Mail Online yesterday, in response to questions on how Jais would seek to ensure non-Muslims in Selangor do not use the Arabic word for God.

Ahmad Zaharin also said he will hold a news conference to publicly announce that “it is an offence to use the word 'Allah'“ under the provisions set out under the same law.

The 1988 enactment, passed by the then Barisan Nasional (BN) 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).

Jais would also discuss with the police force in a bid to boost the latter's involvement in solving and carrying out enforcement for such cases, Ahmad Zaharin said.

“We will discuss through Mais (Selangor Islamic Religious Council) for the police to tackle this issue,” he said, saying that the police would be able to solve these cases quickly while pointing out that the 1988 enactment falls under the jurisdiction of the country's civil courts rather than the Syariah court.

Ahmad Zaharin said Jais would also study the 1988 enactment and propose amendments to beef up the state law, saying that this was in line with the wishes of the Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail and the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom.

“We will study what are the aspects to be amended...We will give pressure to speed up the amendments, to further strengthen the enactment,” he said.

He outlined three areas that Jais would be looking at amending, namely clearer definition of jurisdiction, officers that are authorised to act and the enlarging of the scope of offences under the state law.

Ahmad Zaharin's comments comes on the heels of an unsubstantiated report by Utusan Malaysia this week, where the paper claimed that a Christian group known as the International Full Gospel Fellowship had held a closed-door function at an unnamed hotel in Klang and purportedly sang songs containing the word “Allah”.

The Umno-controlled Malay daily further reported that a board in the hotel hall informing of the gathering had featured the words: “International Full Gospel Fellowship: Keluarga Allah Satelit Nilai dan Satelit Puchong, ‘Dari dalam gelap akan terbit terang’”. 

The English translation reads: “God’s family, Nilai and Puchong satellites, ‘Light will shine strong from the darkness’”.

Yesterday, Ahmad Zaharin also told The Malay Mail Online that Jais is investigating the incident under Section 9 of the 1988 enactment, with those convicted under the offence being liable to a maximum fine of RM1,000.

Jais will soon call in two individuals - purportedly the organisers of the private Christian gathering - for questioning to aid its investigations, he said.

Last month, the Sultan of Selangor renewed his decree that non-Muslims in the country's most developed state should be barred from using the word “Allah”.

The November 14 decree by the Sultan, who is the head of Islam in the state, came after a discussion with the Selangor Royal Council, where it was decided that Selangor citizens should abide by the 1988 enactment, which is enforceable regardless of one's religion.

But several lawyers later argued that the Sultan's decree was not legally binding on Selangor residents as the ruler's powers in Islamic matters were ceremonial.

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