The National Fatwa Council’s ban of the non-Muslims’ use of the word ‘Allah’ is unconstitutional, said the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council (MGC) representing the Sikh community.
The ban that Penang mufti Hassan Ahmad was reported repeating on Wednesday is wrong on two counts, said MGC president Jagir Singh in a statement yesterday.
Firstly, he said, a fatwa does not apply to non-Muslims, and secondly, Article 11(4) of the federal constitution does not support any such prohibition on non-Muslims.
Jagir cited the 2009 High Court decision on the Catholic publication Herald’s use of the word ‘Allah’, which deemed that laws restricting its use by non-Muslims would also be construed “unconstitutional”.
Therefore, he said, Hassan’s statement is “irreconcilable with the constitution”.
“Fatwas are advisory in nature and do not apply to non-Muslims. Moreover, any fatwa issued that contradicts the supreme law of the land (the federal constitution) would be illegal and void.”
He also argued that state legislations’ attempts to ban usage of certain words based on Article 11(4) - that prohibits the propagation of other faiths to Muslims - did not apply to non-Muslims.
“Even a first-year law student will know that Article 11(4) does not prohibit the use of such words by non-Muslims,” he said, adding that the judgement on the Herald case pressed the point home.
‘State enactments subject to constitution’
On Wednesday, Sinar Harian reported Hassan reminding Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng that, “The Penang mufti’s department has decided that words such as ‘Allah’, ‘takwa’, ‘haji’ and ‘masjid’ can only be used by Muslims.
“The rule was enforced during Pakatan Rakyat’s regime and agreed by Lim as the chief minister, in which he has been notified and regulations have been enacted,” Hassan was reported saying.
The mufti was responding to Lim’s (left) Christmas Day message that took a swipe at Prime Minister Najib Razak for the government appealing the Herald ruling and thus keeping the controversy alive.
Jagir said that while Hassan has pointed out enactments on 40 words that non-Muslims cannot use, including ‘Allah’, the non-Muslim community had not supported such enactments.
He recounted how the then Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (the Taoists at the time were not yet members) in 1988 objected to the Perak’s ‘Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religious Bill 1988'.
The council had at the time told the state that some of the prohibited words were “pre-Islamic and have been used by non-Muslims for centuries... Muslims and Christians in 33 countries are using the same word ‘Allah’”.
The state was also informed that, “In the case of the Sikhs, most of the prohibited words (in the proposed Bill) are in use in their holy scripture and in their exegetical texts... we must in all conscience reject this Perak Bill,” said Jagir.
“The Middle East countries and our neighbour Indonesia allow for the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims,” he said, adding that the matter had only been politicised and made an issue in Malaysia since the late 1980s.
He advised Hassan to “study the constitution” and the 2009 Herald court decision.
“The mere passing of the enactments cannot override the constitution and may be unconstitutional,” he said, adding that it is the Federal Court’s duty to decide on the constitutionality of enacted laws of the states,” he said.
DAP national chairperson Karpal Singh has risen to the defence of the party's secretary-general Lim Guan Eng's Christmas day call for Christians to be allowed to use the term 'Allah', stating that it was not intended to hurt Muslim sensitivities.
He explained that Lim's call was meant for Christians in Sabah and Sarawak where the word has been in use for generations.
It is surprising, therefore, that Penang Umno secretary Datuk Azhar Ibrahim has publicly come out with a scathing attack on the Penang chief minister that what he had said in his Christmas message should not hurt the feelings of Muslims, he said in a statement yesterday.
Karpal (right) added that in any event, the use of the word 'Allah' should not affect the sensitivities of Muslims in the country.
The word ‘Allah' appears 37 times in the Sikh bible. No objection has ever been taken by Muslims for the use of that word by Sikh when reciting their bible.
The word Allah also appears in the Bengali language. In Malaysia, the orang asli use the word and so do the Babas in Malacca, he said.
As such, Karpal said that there was no ill intention on Lim's part when making the call.
Nothing sinister should be read into what the chief minister said as he had no intention of hurting anyone's feelings.
Therefore, he added, calls for Lim to issue a public apology are not justified.
Lim (left) had in his Christmas message called on Putrajaya to allow Christians to use the term 'Allah' in the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Bible.
DAP later clarified that the call was only for the term to be allowed for use in Sabah and Sarawak.
In response, PAS secretary general Mustafa Ali and Information Chief Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said that the term 'Allah' should not be used in the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Bible as the correct translation for God should be 'Tuhan'.
PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim later said a Pakatan Rakyat meeting will be called to hammer out the issue.