Selangor residents are NOT legally bound by the Sultan’s latest decree banning non-Muslims from using “Allah” in the state as the ruler’s powers in Islamic matters were ceremonial, SEVERAL LAWYERS have said.
The Selangor Sultan renewed his decree last Thursday that the Arabic word for God be barred to non-Muslims in the country’s most developed state, including in the Malay-language Christian bible, the Al-Kitab, and in the Catholic weekly, the Herald.
NIZAM BASHIR, who is both a constitutional and syariah lawyer, added that Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah’s decree, which impinges on non-Muslims’ right to freedom of expression relating to their god, was unconstitutional as Article 10 (2) of the Federal Constitution states that only Parliament can restrict such freedoms.
Nizam told The Malay Mail Online yesterday:
“The decree is not legally binding. The sultan has purely ceremonial powers where Islam is concerned. When you talk about usage of the word ‘Allah’, it is a form of expression. It is for that reason I take the view that that power does not belong to the Sultan, but it is a power that belongs to Parliament alone.
"“I personally don’t take the view that when a non-Muslim uses the word ‘Allah’, it is, in the sense, propagation. On two scores, i.e. on Article 10(2) and 11(4), there’s no basis for the so-called restraint being imposed on non-Muslims.
“I’d even go further and say that from a theological perspective and from a historical perspective, ‘Allah’ the word predates the coming of Islam. There is no prohibition in the Quran for non-Muslims using the word ‘Allah’.”
The decree by the Sultan, who is the head of Islam in the state, came after a discussion with the Selangor Royal Council, where it was decided that Selangor citizens should abide by the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988, which is enforceable regardless of one’s religion.
The 1988 state law, which was passed by the then Barisan Nasional government, prohibits non-Muslims from using 35 Arabic words and phrases in their faith, including “Allah”, “Nabi” (prophet), “Injil” (gospel) and “Insya’Allah” (God willing).
Nizam questioned the validity of the ban in the state law, which was premised on Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution that ALLOWS state and federal laws to restrict the propagation of other religious doctrines among Muslims.
He also said that the Selangor state law could be challenged in court on its constitutionality and legality, pointing out that fundamental liberties “reign supreme” in the secular country, above both federal and Islamic laws.
“The Che Omar Che Soh case basically says that Malaysia is a secular state...The reason why it’s a secular state is that fundamental liberties triumphs over everything else,” said Nizam, referring to the 1988 landmark case where then Lord President Tun Salleh Abas ruled that Malaysian laws are secular and not Islamic.
Former de facto law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said yesterday, however, that the royal decree could not be applicable to non-Muslims and noted that according to the Federal Constitution, only Muslims can be governed by syariah laws.
He also said it was not treason for non-Muslims to disobey the Selangor Sultan’s decree, as claimed by Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA).
NOT TREASON FOR NON-MUSLIMS TO DISOBEY THE SULTAN'S DECREE
“Not following the royal decree is NOT treason,” Datuk Zaid Ibrahim told The Malay Mail Online.
Muslim hardliners here have insisted it would be treasonous to ignore the Selangor Sultan’s “Allah” decree but a former Umno law minister believes otherwise, and even doubts that the ruler’s order is legally binding on non-Muslims.
Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, a known critic of groups like Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA) and Perkasa, said an act of treason typically means leading a rebellion against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or any state ruler, for whatever reason.
“There is a specific definition under the Penal Code for treason: if you lead an armed rebellion against the King or Sultan, then that’s treason.
He added that Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah’s blanket ban on the use of “Allah” in the state may NOT apply to NON-Muslims as Islamic laws or religious edicts are only legally binding on Muslims.
Zaid also questioned if a royal decree is considered a law and argued that even if this was the case, the order CONTRAVENES the Federal Constitution, which states that NON-Muslims CANNOT be bound by any Islamic laws.
ISMA yesterday claimed that non-Muslims would be committing treason if they dared to disobey the Selangor Sultan’s decree banning their use of “Allah”, in apparent warning against attempts to challenge the exclusive right of Muslims to use the Arabic term for God. ISMA deputy president Aminuddin Yahaya said the blanket ban by Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah must be respected by all Selangor folk in light of his position as the state’s ruler and highest religious authority.
But Zaid said it must first be established if the decree is binding.
“Is the decree law? Even if it is law, it cannot be applicable on non-Muslims. HOW CAN YOU MAKE AN ISLAMIC LAW AND APPLY IT TO NON MUSLIMS? he said.
ZAID'S TWITTER MESSAGE TO ISMA
The maverick politician had taken to Twitter yesterday to scoff at ISMA’s claim, even openly telling the Islamist group not to be bullies.
“ISMA dont bully people la. Its not treason not to follow decree,” he had said in a posting.
He earned a reply from renowned lawyer and human rights activist Datuk Ambiga Sreenavasan who tweeted, “@zaidibrahim There is a new extremist kid on the block. There seems to be a highly organised plot to irritate us on a daily basis.”
SELANGOR SULTAN'S DECREE MUDDLES FURTHER THE ALLAH ISSUE
Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah had on Thursday renewed his decree barring the Arabic word for God to all non-Muslims in the country’s wealthiest state and for an immediate stop to usage in the Malay language Bible al-Kitab and the Catholic weekly, Herald, in a move set to complicate Putrajaya’s bid to calm east Malaysian unease over the religious row.
The decree is also set to revive a longstanding and confusing debate on the jurisdiction overlap between the country’s civil and syariah legal system.
In Selangor’s case, the Sultan’s decree could be binding as the Selangor Non-Islamic Religion (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 applies to every religion or race.
But as Zaid pointed out, the Federal Constitution states that ONLY Muslims can be governed by syariah laws.
Asked if this meant that non-Muslims in Selangor should ignore the decree, Zaid refused comment but said:
“All I’m saying is that even if the decree is law, it cannot be applicable to NON-Muslims. If that is the state law then it is against the Constitution. Because it is state law doesn’t mean it can’t be challenged”.
With the Sultan’s decree that non-Muslims cannot use “Allah” not only in their newspaper, but also in nearly all aspects of their religious life, there were questions if the blanket ban could override the Court of Appeal’s decision.
Legal observers have now called for Putrajaya’s immediate clarification on the matter.
SABAH AND SARAWAK DEMANDING THEIR RIGHTS UNDER THE 20 AND 18 POINT AGREEMENTS
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.