KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 2 — Umno veterans have asked a senior Christian priest to convert to Islam if he insists on using “Allah”, saying this would allow him to comply with a Selangor ban on the non-Muslim use of the Arabic word.
Datuk Mustapha Yaakub, the secretary of Umno Veterans Club, also expressed the group’s readiness to hold the ceremony of religious conversion for Father Lawrence Andrew, who is the editor of the Catholic Church’s newspaper the Herald.
“Umno veterans are ready to arrange a ceremony of his conversion to Islam anytime after the priest receives hidayah (guidance) from Allah.
“We will also ensure he becomes an imam (Muslim leader) and pendakwah (preacher) that is successful and respected,” Mustapha was quoted saying in a statement yesterday by Utusan Malaysia.
Mustapha further said that the Catholic priest’s conversion to Islam would be the best way to avoid angering the Muslim community, while also ensuring that the Selangor Sultan’s decree is respected.
Andrew has come under fire from Muslim groups since criticising a Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) plan to compel churches in the state to stop using the Arabic word for God, saying the Catholic Church would not abide by such a directive.
Last week, Jais said it would soon issue letters to all the churches in Selangor to remind them to obey a 1988 state law banning non-Muslims from using the word “Allah”.
The Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988, passed by the then Barisan Nasional 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).
Last November, 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.
Lawyers have questioned whether Jais’s actions could test the guarantee of religious freedom in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, which also provides for the right of all religions to practice and regulate their faith.
Temperatures have risen of late over the so-called “Allah” row that remains unresolved four years after it shocked the nation and led to the worst religious strife in the country’s history.
The ongoing 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, which is set to hear arguments from both sides on February 24 before deciding on whether it will hear an appeal by the Catholic Church.