KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 10 — Lawyers in the “Allah CD” case have formally written to tell the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) that the Selangor Sultan’s latest ban on the usage of “Allah” by non-Muslims is disrespectful of a 2009 High Court order and in conflict with a 2011 federal government decision on the matter.
In a letter to MAIS yesterday, the lawyers affixed documents to both decisions to remind the council that a settlement to the controversy had long been reached, despite the latest religious storm over the same issue.
“MAIS’s action, which is inconsistent and contrary to the order of the court, appears to belittle and disrespect the court decision,” the lawyers said in the letter signed by Annou Xavier, who is also a member of the Kuala Lumpur Catholic Lawyers’ Society (CLS).
The first document attached to the letter is a copy of the 2009 court order where Jill Ireland, a Sarawakian Christian, was granted permission to challenge the government’s previous confiscation of several of her religious CDs which bore the word “Allah”. The second document is a April 2011 circular to Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) chairman Bishop Ng Moon Hing that was signed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak himself, stating that Christians and those of other faiths can import and use bibles in any languages including Bahasa Malaysia.
In the run-up to the heated Sarawak state polls, the federal government had on April 2, 2011, issued a 10-point solution to the “Allah” controversy, allowing the publication and distribution of the AlKitab, the Malay-language Bible that it had impounded due to its usage of “Allah” to refer to the Christian God.
As such, Annou said that by suddenly banning non-Muslims in Selangor from using “Allah”, MAIS had not only contradicted both the court and federal government’s decisions, but had also contravened Article 11(3) of the Federal Constitution which, he said, stipulates that those of all other faiths in Malaysia had the right to conduct their religious practices freely.
“We hope MAIS will not prolong this issue of non-Muslims using ‘Allah’ in the media and instead respect the court decision as well as every individual’s right to freedom of religion,” the lawyer wrote.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court had on May 4, 2009, granted leave to Jill Ireland to challenge the Home Ministry’s seizure of her religious CDs bearing the word “Allah” a year earlier.
In the order, it was decided that Jill had the right to “own, receive, use, import, distribute and posses” any materials with the word “Allah” on it.
In the terms of the order, Jill was also granted a declaration that it was a “legitimate expectation” for her to possess or use these materials for the purpose of conducting her religious faith freely.
Jill, a member of the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) church, had sued the ministry for confiscating her personal collection of CDs at the airport in 2008 simply because they bore the word “Allah”.
The 29-year-old ethnic Melanau had demanded that the CDs — titled: “Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah”, “Cara Menggunakan Kunci Kerajaan Allah”, “Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah” and “Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah” — be returned despite the ministry’s claim to her that the items were a threat to national security.
The “Allah” storm was reignited recently when Lim Guan Eng, secretary-general of the opposition DAP, raised the controversial issue in his Christmas message urging the federal government to lift its ban on the word published in the Malay bibles shipped into Sabah and Sarawak, who form the bulk of Malaysia’s 9.2 per cent Christian population.
In response, MAIS revealed on Tuesday that Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin had called for an emergency meeting with state Islamic religious officials to bar non-Muslims from using the Arabic word for god.
The statement from the state’s highest Islamic authority came despite a High Court ruling in December 2009 that the word “Allah” was not restricted to Muslims and the Catholic Church had the right to publish the word in the Malay section of its weekly newspaper Herald.
But despite the Selangor Sultan’s decree, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) confirmed on Tuesday its stand on the controversy, insisting that Islam does not prohibit others from using the word.
PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang told a joint press conference with PR leaders in Petaling Jaya that Christians and other non-Muslim communities should not abuse the word to spread confusion among Muslims but this did not mean they were not allowed to use the word.
“Islam does not stop those of other faiths from using kalimah ‘Allah’ in their practice, although [in the usage of the word by non-Muslims] it does not refer to the original meaning of the word as according to the al-Quran,” he said.
In recent years, the Christian and Muslim religious communities have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the word “Allah”, with the latter group arguing that its use should be exclusive to them on the grounds that Islam is monotheistic and the word “Allah” denotes the Muslim god.
Shipments of the Alkitab, the Malay-language Bible catering to the Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Bumiputera Christians, were blocked or confiscated at ports before the government finally bowed to pressure and released them in 2011.
A 10-point solution was subsequently issued, seen as a move at the time to temper Christian anger ahead of state elections in Sarawak, a state where the bulk of the country’s Christian community resides.