Religious freedom is doubtful under current BN government

Religious representatives of Islamic, Christian, Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist faiths light an oil lamp with their candles during a multi-faith prayer session in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in this file photo from April 20, 2008. Tengku Bahar/AFP/Getty Images

Sikhs in Malaysia are up in arms over an Islamic council ruling meant to reimpose a ban on them and other non-Muslims in the country from using the word “Allah.”

The National Fatwa Council’s ban of the non-Muslims’ use of the word “Allah” is unconstitutional, said the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council (MGC) representing the Sikh community. Gurdwaras are places of worship for Sikhs. Some of the Sikh scriptures also use “Allah.”

According to Malaysian media, an Islamic leader in the state of Penang, Hassan Ahmad, was reported reiterating the ban or “fatwa,” which a Malaysian High Court already deemed unconstitutional in 2009.
The fatwa is wrong on two counts, said MGC president Jagir Singh in a statement.

He said a fatwa does not apply to non-Muslims, and secondly, Article 11(4) of the Malaysian federal constitution does not support any such prohibition on non-Muslims.

“Fatwas are advisory in nature and do not apply to non-Muslims. Moreover, any fatwa issued that contradicts the supreme law of the land (the federal constitution) would be illegal and void.”

He also argued that Malaysian state legislations’ attempts to ban usage of certain words based on Article 11(4) – that prohibits the propagation of other faiths to Muslims – did not apply to non-Muslims.

The longstanding controversy in the multi-ethnic Southeast Asian country that is dominated by Muslim leaders was reignited after Prime Minister Najib Razak said recently that the government was planning to appeal the 2009 High Court ruling.

“The Middle East countries and our neighbour Indonesia allow for the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims,” he said, adding that the matter had only been politicized and made an issue in Malaysia since the late 1980s, said Jagir.

The Muslim-dominated Malaysian Government argues “Allah” is exclusive to Islam and forbids non-Muslims from using it. The Arabic word, which predates Islam, is routinely used by Christians in other Muslim countries.

About 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 30 million people are Malay Muslims. Additionally, about 25 per cent are ethnic Chinese (mostly Buddhists), 10 per cent ethnic Indians (mostly Hindus) and nine per cent of the population is Christian. Sikhs are also considered ethnic Indians in Malaysia and number about 130,000.

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