Prime Minister must speak out now!

He must act as the leader of all Malaysians regardless of their religion and ethnic backgrounds.

Graphic courtesy of themalaysianinsider.com

Graphic courtesy of themalaysianinsider.com

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak must end his silence and speak out on the worsening tensions between Muslims and Christians over the use of the word ‘Allah’.

Now that his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has given his nod to Selangor Umno’s plan to protest at all churches in Selangor over the use of the word “Allah”, Najib must remind his No. 2 of the cabinet’s 10-point solution. That solution was announced by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Idris Jala on 2 April 2011 and reiterated by Najib himself in Kota Kinabalu on 21 October 2013.

One of the points included the right to hold services in Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia and the indigenous languages of Sabah and Sarawak in churches nationwide. Another stated that Christians can import, print and distribute the Al-Kitab under certain conditions.

Muhyiddin should also be reminded of the prime minister’s Christmas Day speech in which he called for all to preserve the nation’s peace, harmony and stability.

Apparently, the Klang Selatan OCPD, Assistant Commissioner Kamarul Zaman Mamat, in a phone conversation with a Member of Parliament, gave his assurance that churchgoers would not be intimidated or threatened when they go for Mass in the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Klang on Sunday, 5 January – although a group called the Muslim Solidarity Secretariat intends to hold a protest at that Church.

The prime minister should come out too to assure Christians that they can worship without fear on Sunday.

Indeed, the prime minister, who professes to be a moderate and launched a Global Movement of Moderates, should have come out to object to the heavy-handed raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) premises on 2 January. On that day, Jais (Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor) officers accompanied by two policemen seized over 300 copies of the Alkitab and Bup Kudus, the Bible in the Malay language and Iban language respectively, while two BSM officials were arrested by the police and told to report to Jais later.

The Bibles seized yesterday contain the word Allah but BSM said its customers are not just the churches in Sabah and Sarawak, but also Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians, Orang Asli churches and other Malay-speaking Christians in the peninsula.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), which represents virtually all of the churches nationwide, has termed the raid and seizure of Bibles by Jais as “shocking” a “violation of the Christians’ constitutional right to freedom of religion” and an “aggressive attack” on interfaith ties in Malaysia.

CFM stressed that neither Jais nor any other Muslim religious bodies must gain authority over another religion, saying that it would otherwise render the protection of freedom of religion under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution meaningless.

The newly appointed Jais director, Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad, has claimed that he wanted to remind churches of the provisions of the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988. The enactment, passed by the Barisan Nasional state government, prohibits non-Muslims in Selangor from using 35 Arabic words and phrases, including ‘Allah’, ‘Nabi’ (prophet), ‘Injil’ (gospel) and ‘Insya’Allah’ (God willing).

If this was his intention why did his officers then resort to a raid? In fact, the new Jais director had started his tenure by declaring that the religious department would begin compelling churches in Selangor to comply with the 1988 Enactment, particularly on the usage of the word Allah.

For an agency which is so concerned about implementing the law, we now learn that Jais had acted without first informing or seeking permission of the Selangor menteri besar or the executive committee member in charge of Islamic affairs, prior to conducting the raid. This is most troubling.

The Majlis Agama Islam Selangor (Mais), to which Jais is answerable, is a body established by statute, under Section 4 of the Administration of the Religion of Islam (state of Selangor) Enactment 2003. Under Section 6, the function of Mais is to aid and advise the Sultan, and it is the chief authority under the Sultan on matters of Islam (but not on Islamic Law) in the state.

It appears, therefore, that Mais’ – and by extension, Jais’ – powers, functions, the limits of these and how they are to be construed are all matters of statutory construction according to common law and statutory principles. Mais, however, may determine its jurisdiction for itself; nonetheless, it must do so within the walls of this statute. Certainly, Mais cannot act as it likes – for a statute is an instrument of the state legislature, and its workings must be congruent with the state constitution and the federal constitution too.

Meanwhile Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein has blamed the tensions on “certain quarters” (i.e. the Christians) who have refused to accept the court’s decision. In October, the Court of Appeal decided that The Herald could not use the word Allah in its Malay edition as the usage of the word Allah was not an integral part of the Christian faith. Christians and their supporters, however, consider the court ruling to have violated the letter and spirit of the 10-point cabinet decision.

In fact, the 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. The highest court in the land is set to hear arguments from both sides on 24 February before deciding whether it will hear an appeal by the Catholic Church.

There is no time to lose. The prime minister must step in and show that he is a statesman like his late father was. This is a time for Najib to show true leadership to all Malaysians regardless of their religious affiliation. We must not be brought closer to the brink of a breakdown by self-serving politicians.

Francis Loh
President, Aliran
4 January 2014

Francis Loh

Dr Francis Loh has been president of Aliran since 2011. He was formerly Professor of Politics at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

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2 Responses

  1. Clem Jarvis says:

    An excellent article Francis.

    I pray for a sensible resolution.

  2. Towards a united, just society says:

    Malaysia seems to have become a land where religion and race are used to belittle and threaten other people. They call others apostates and “rent seekers”. To me, this is the desperate attempt to squash independence and science by a group of so called religious authorities and political kingpins. In reality the people who hurl these insults do not seem confident or authoritative – they just seem pathetic. Let’s try to see ourselves as one people – Malaysians. No one is going anywhere – be it people of different race, religion, or sexual orientation. We better learn to learn to live together and make a better life for ourselves. We are all in the same boat.

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