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History and constitutional guarantee allow Christians to use ‘Allah’, say law experts

Two Malaysian academics have come out in support of Christians in the country on their right to use the word "Allah" in their religious practices amid Putrajaya's admission that states can regulate such activities.

Universiti Malaya law professor Dr Azmi Shahrom (pic) and former International Islamic University law lecturer Dr Abdul Aziz Bari went on record to support such rights when they affirmed affidavits in support of a judicial review application by a Sarawakian Christian, Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, against the home minister.
Both documents sighted by The Malaysian Insider said the use of the word “Allah” was an aspect of the Christian faith which was guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.

They said Christians, or for that matter, other non-Muslims, were permitted to use the word in their worship as long they did not use the Arabic term to propagate their religion to Muslims.

On May 11, 2008, the ministry seized eight Christian CDs from Jill Ireland at the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang, prompting the Melanau Christian to challenge the seizure in court.

The CDs, which Jill Ireland had bought in after a trip to Indonesia for personal use, bore titles such as "Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah", " Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah" and "Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah".

In August 2008, Jill Ireland filed a judicial review of the ministry's action and a return of the CDs.

She has also asked for a declaration, saying that she has a legitimate expectation to exercise the right to use "Allah" and to continue to own and import such materials.

On May 4, 2009, the High Court granted Jill Ireland leave for judicial review and the case has been fixed before a judge on February 5.

In his affidavit, Azmi said Christians nationwide were not a threat to public order if they continued to use “Allah” in their religious activities.

He said it was a minority of Muslims who threatened public order, such as making wild allegations, demonstrating and attacking Christian places of worship for using the word “Allah”.

"So it is not the Christians who are a threat to national security," he added.

Azmi said it did not matter even if the majority in Malaysia were uncomfortable or protested against the use of the word “Allah” by Christians as it was their constitutional right.

"If this right is eroded or even eradicated, then this country is administered by the tyranny of the majority."

Abdul Aziz said that Article 11 on religious freedom was sacred and could be violated and Putrajaya could not take that right from any group even in exceptional circumstances.

He said no laws passed by Parliament and executive actions could suspend that right, even when the government wants to combat subversion as allowed under Article 149 of the Constitution.

"Only four basic fundamental rights under the Constitution (personal liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, assembly and association and property) can be violated during the period to fight subversion.

"This shows that Article 11 is sacrosanct and inviolable," he said in his affidavit affirmed early this month.

Abdul Aziz also lent support to the affidavit of Jok Wan who affirmed that “Allah” was used by Christians in Sabah and Sarawak even before both states agreed to form Malaysia in 1963.

He said Abdullah Munshi, the father of modern Malay literature, who translated the Bible into Malay in 1852 had referred to God as "Allah".

"Even Dr Tariq Aslan (a professor in Islamic Studies from Iowa, the United States) had stated that Christians in the Arabian peninsula had used ‘Allah’ before the time of Prophet Muhammad."

He said the former Perlis mufti and associate professor from Universiti Sains Malaysia Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin had also stated that non-Muslims were encouraged to use the word in their religious practice. – January 29, 2014.

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