As ‘Allah’ case drags on, Selangor Sultan insists on non-Muslim ban

The Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, has called for an immediate halt to the usage of the word ‘Allah’ in the al-Kitab. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
The Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, has called for an immediate halt to the usage of the word ‘Allah’ in the al-Kitab. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 14 — In a move set to complicate Putrajaya’s bid to calm east Malaysian unease over the “Allah” row, the Selangor Sultan today renewed his decree that the Arabic word for God be barred to all non-Muslims in the state.

Responding to the recent ruling by the Court of Appeal, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah Al-Haj has also called for an immediate halt to the word’s usage in the Malay language Bible al-Kitab and the Catholic weekly, The Herald.

“His Majesty urges all citizens residing especially in Selangor to respect and follow the decision made by the Muzakarah (Conference) of National Fatwa Council, the Selangor State Fatwa Committee, the laws and the unanimous decision of the Court of Appeal,” said a statement from the state palace here.

“His Majesty also advises for any parties to not take the opportunity to make this ‘Allah’ word as their political agenda since the ‘Allah’ word is a sacred word and involves the faith of the Muslim community.”

The decision by the state Ruler comes after a discussion with the Selangor Royal Council on Monday, which decided that Selangor citizens should abide by the Selangor Non-Islamic Religion (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 which applies to every religion or race.

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.

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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