PM: 10-point deal not above state, federal laws

Malaysia's Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak speaks during the announcement of the line-up of his new Cabinet ministers at his office in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur, May 15, 2013. — Reuters pic
Malaysia's Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak speaks during the announcement of the line-up of his new Cabinet ministers at his office in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur, May 15, 2013. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 — Putrajaya’s 10-point solution on the “Allah” row is still subject to existing state and federal laws, Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today, confirming his government’s hands-off approach to the ongoing debacle in Selangor.

The prime minister pointed out that laws on the usage of “Allah” differ from one state to another but noted that there are “no such enactments” in the case of Sabah and Sarawak.

“The supreme council is aware of the 10-point agreement by the government but the agreement itself is subject to federal and state laws,” he told reporters after chairing the Umno supreme council meeting this evening.

“This means that if a state has an enactment, that means it is subject to the enactment on the state level,” the prime minister added.

But in Sabah and Sarawak, which Najib listed as states without specific enactments to bar non-Muslim usage of the “Allah” word, faith followers there “may continue their practice as usual.”

“And no party needs to intimidate any other parties,” Najib said.

The Najib Cabinet had mooted the 10-point solution shortly before the Sarawak state election in 2011 to resolve the row over the seizure of a consignment of the Al-Kitab Bibles which contained the word “Allah” in them.

The solution allowed for bibles in Malay and indigenous languages to be printed, imported and distributed freely in Sabah and Sarawak but in the peninsular, the holy books must be stamped to indicate that they are a Christian publication.

Najib added today it is already stated within the 10-point solution that the Cabinet agreement must be made in accordance to existing state and federal laws.

The prime minister’s words tonight may further irk government critics who have already questioned the purpose and intention of mooting the 10-point deal when several state laws appear to depict different rules on the usage of “Allah”.

In Sabah, for example, the state mufti had in 2003 issued a fatwa or religious edict under the Administration of Islamic Law Enactment 1992, banning non-Muslims in the state from using “Allah” and 31 other Arabic words, including “injil” (gospel) and “rasul” (messenger). The edict was gazetted the same year.

In Selangor, state religious authorities used provisions in the Control and Restriction of Propogation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment 1988 to raid the premises of a Christian organisation and seize over 300 Malay and Iban language bibles containing the word “Allah”.

The January 2 incident sparked an uproar, leading to Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim issuing an order to the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) on January 8 to return the bibles to the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), if the holy scriptures had complied with the Cabinet’s 10-point solution.

Jais has since ignored the directive. Instead, it pressed ahead with questioning BSM president Lee Min Choon along with the society’s office manager, Sinclair Wong, over the bibles.

The shocking raid earlier this month had escalated religious tension over “Allah” that was already heightened following last October’s Court of Appeal ruling barring the Arabic word to non-Muslims.

It also complicated Putrajaya’s 10-point solution that was introduced to allow Christians the continued use of “Allah” in their indigenous language bibles even as the legal case dragged on.

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 March 5 before deciding on whether it will hear an appeal by the Catholic Church.

Christians make up close to 10 per cent of the Malaysian population, or 2.6 million. Almost two-thirds of them are Bumiputera and are largely based in Sabah and Sarawak, where they routinely use Bahasa Malaysia and indigenous languages in their religious practices, including describing God as “Allah” in their prayers and holy book.

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