Friday, 27 February 2009

Response to Conditional Use of “Allah”

The Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) welcomes the confirmation by the Government of Malaysia that the word “Allah” may be used by a religion other than Islam. This is implicit in the Internal Security (Prohibition On Use of Specific Words on Document and Publication) Order 2009, (“Order”) made pursuant to Section 22(1)(c) of the Internal Security Act 1960 which reads as follows:-

“2.(1) The printing, publication, sale, issue, circulation and possession of any document and publication relating to Christianity containing the words “Allah”, “Kaabah”, “Baitullah” and “Solat” are prohibited unless on the front cover of the document and publication are written with the words “FOR CHRISTIANITY”.

(2) The words “FOR CHRISTIANITY” referred to in subparagraph (1) shall be written clearly in font type Arial of size 16 in bold.

This Order, which is dated 21 January 2009, came into operation on 16 February 2009.

However the wording of the order causes great concern and gives rise to several questions. Firstly, why is there a specific Order in relation only to the Christian religion? The Sikh religion, for example, also refers to “Allah” in their sacred texts. By virtue of the wording of this Order, they will still be prohibited from using the word “Allah”.

Secondly, all of a sudden, people in possession of such documents and publications are now in a position of being in possession of a prohibited document unless they take action to ensure that the words “UNTUK AGAMA KRISTIAN” or “FOR CHRISTIANITY” in font type Arial of size 16 in bold are placed on its front cover. This is an unfair imposition and an unwarranted restriction on the practice of the Christian religion in this country. By making prohibited something which was hitherto not prohibited, the Order constitutes retrospective penal legislation that violates Article 7 of the Federal Constitution. Under Section 44A of the Internal Security Act 1960,

“Any person guilty of an offence against this Part for which no special penalty is provided shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding one thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both.”

Thirdly, the introduction of conditions as a pre-requisite to the use of the aforementioned words still constitutes a limitation on the freedom of religion as guaranteed by Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. This situation is unacceptable.

We regret that the Government of Malaysia did not see fit to engage with us before introducing this Order.

We call on the Government of Malaysia to accept that the use of the term “Allah” is a heritage that belongs not just to one religion. We further urge the Government of Malaysia not to attempt to regulate or circumscribe its use through the introduction of pre-conditions and by punitive criminal legislation.

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