Check law first, Karpal asks Penang government over decree banning ‘Islamic words’

January 12, 2014

The DAP has asked the Penang government to seek legal advice on the ruling that non-Muslims in the state cannot use 40 "Islamic words", including Allah.

Party chairman Karpal Singh (pic) said this follows an announcement by the Penang Mufti's office that non-Muslims could be charged if they violated a decree.

"It will certainly be in order for the Penang state government to seek legal advice on the prohibition announced by the Penang Mufti before any non-Muslim is charged for an offence for use of the words," Karpal said in a statement today.

The ban on the words are provided under sub section 48 (3) and (4) of the Penang Islamic Religious Administration Enactment 2004 as exclusive to Muslims.

The decree was enforced on April 29, 2004, when Penang was under Barisan Nasional rule.

The Yang diPertuan Agong is the head of the Islamic religion in Penang.

Those found flouting the decree could be charged under section 3 of the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment (Penang) 1996.

The section said that any person whether he or she is Muslim who develops doctrines or religious beliefs other than Islamic religious doctrines or belief among Muslims is guilty of an offence triable in the civil court and shall be liable to a fine not exceeding RM3,000 or imprisonment not exceeding two years or both.

A Penang Mufti's Department spokesman said so far no action has been taken against any individual or groups since the law was enforced.

Pakatan Rakyat consisting of DAP, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and PAS wrested power in 2008 and was again given the mandate to rule the state in the 2013 election.

Karpal, who is a lawyer, however, said that non-Muslims could not be charged in a Syariah court.

He has to be prosecuted in a civil court. If he is to be charged in a civil court, then only the Attorney General will have a say in the prosecution under Article 145(3) of the Constitution.

If he is charged or convicted or jailed by a Syariah court, then the non-Muslim offender is entitled to seek remedy from the civil court which empowers the civil High Court to grant various orders including the writs of habeas corpus and prohibition,” he added.

Karpal said the prohibition has far reaching implications and consequences, in particular on the use of the word Allah, as it also impacts on Sikhs practising their religion in Penang.

In the Sikh Holy book, the word Allah appears 37 times.

"The constitutionality of the prohibition of the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims in the state is certainly open to challenge in a court of law. The Sikhs have used the word Allah in Penang and elsewhere in the world from time immemorial without any objection from any quarter," he said.

He said Articles 3(1) and 11(1) of the Federal Constitution guaranteed freedom to practise one's religion.

"The Penang Mufti’s prohibition of that word by Sikhs in the state, therefore, is of no consequence or avail," he said.

On Friday, Karpal also said Sikhs in Selangor are not affected by the Sultan's decree on the use of the word Allah in their worship as the word is in their holy scriptures.

Karpal said this in reference to the decree by the Sultan of Selangor that non-Muslims were barred from using the word Allah in Selangor.

The Sultan, who is the head of Islam in Selangor, renewed the decree in November last year that with the exception of Muslims, all must abide by the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation among Muslims) Enactment 1988.

However, on December 27, Catholic weekly Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew said Catholic churches in Selangor would continue to use the word Allah in their Bahasa Malaysia masses which were primarily attended by Sabah and Sarawak folk.

The church's contention is that the 10-point solution endorsed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's administration in 2011, among others, allowed for the word Allah to be used in Bibles which are published in Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia and the indigenous languages of Sabah and Sarawak, across the country.

Andrew’s statement resulted in more than 100 police reports being lodged against him and police began a probe against the church leader under the Sedition Act.

In October, a three-man Court of Appeal bench allowed Putrajaya’s appeal to reverse a High Court ruling that Herald could not use the word Allah as "it was not an integral part of the Christian faith and practice".

The court said the Home Minister acted within the law on grounds of national security and public order.

It said such use, if allowed, would inevitably cause confusion within the Malay-Muslim community, adding that the welfare of an individual or group must concede to the majority. – January 12, 2014.