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Karpal: Penang 'Allah' ban open to challenge in court Print E-mail
Sunday, 12 January 2014


DAP national chairperson Karpal Singh said the constitutionality of the prohibition on the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims in Penang is open to challenge in court.

He urged the Penang government to seek legal advice on the ban announced by the state mufti before any non-Muslim is charged for for using the prohibited words.

He said the 40 words outlawed by the Penang mufti for use by non-Muslims - including ‘Allah’ to refer to God - has "far-reaching implications".

Karpal added that the ban of the word, which has kicked up a storm at the federal level after The Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew insisted it would still be used in Bahasa Malaysia church services, also affects Sikhs practising their religion in Penang.

In the Sikh Bible, the word ‘Allah’ appears 37 times, said Karpal, and the community have been using it worldwide since time immemorial without any objection from any quarter.

"This is rightly so, having regard to the guarantee of freedom of religion under Articles 3(1) and 11(1) of the federal constitution," said Karpal in a statement.

"The Penang mufti's prohibition of that word by Sikhs in the state, therefore, is of no consequence or avail," he stressed.

A report of the state mufti's prohibition, under Section 48(3) and (4) of the Penang Islamic Religious Administration Enactment 2004, comes in the wake of the Selangor Islamic Religious Department’s (Jais) raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia in Petaling Jaya.

In the Jan 2 incident, 300 over copies of the Bible in Malay and Iban languages were seized while two staff members of BSM were detained by the police, albeit released after an hour.

Father Lawrence is currently being probed under the Sedition Act for allegedly defying the Selangor sultan's decree that has banned the usage of the word ‘Allah’, among 25 others, by non-Muslims in the state.

‘No competency to enact such laws’

Although a 2004 Penang Islamic Religious Administration Enactment - enforced in 2009 - is in place, as reported in New Straits Times yesterday, no one has been persecuted under the law, which carries a RM3,000 fine or jail term not exceeding two years or both.

When contacted, state exco on Islamic affairs Abdul Malik Kassim refused to comment on the matter.

Karpal referred to an opinion piece by senior lawyer Roger Tan who wrote in The Star today arguing that state legislatures have no competency to enact such laws as Articles 11(4) and Paragraph 1, List II of Schedule 9 of the federal constitution only allow states to pass laws to control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among Muslims. [See corrections below]

"To put it in another way, Muslims may propagate the Islamic religion to non-Muslims but not vice-versa," said Tan in his article.

"But the states do not have the power to make laws controlling or restricting, let alone prohibiting, the use of certain words and expressions without any act of propagation," he added.

"In other words, a state law can only be enacted to proscribe a Christian from delivering a Bible which contains the word ‘Allah’ to a Muslim, and not if the former uses the same Bible for his own personal belief," the lawyer pointed out.

However, Tan said that Section 9 is contrary to Articles 3(1) and 11(1) which guarantee every non-Muslim to profess and practise his own religion in peace and harmony.

It is also against a person's right to freedom of speech under Article 10, wrote Tan.

Tan went on to say that in spite of this, Section 9 is still a "valid law" unless repealed or amended by the respective state legislatures.

Those who want to challenge its validity must first obtain leave from a Federal Court judge unless the challenge comes from the federal or state governments, said Tan.

"I must hasten to add that no non-Muslim can be charged in a syariah court. He has to be prosecuted in a civil court.

"If he is charged or convicted or jailed by a syariah court, the non-Muslim offender is entitled to seek remedy from the civil court,” said Tan.

Section 25(2) and the Schedule of the Court's of Judicature Act 1964 empower the civil High Court to grant various orders, including the writs of habeous corpus and prohibition, he added.

Correction: Malaysiakini has earlier attributed a number of quotes to Karpal Singh when it should be Roger Tan. We apologise for the mistake.

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