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February 15, 2010

Asri urges review of Islamic laws on banned words

Filed under: Public Issues — Pengayau @ 10:00 pm
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Taken from Malaysian Insider

By G. Manimaran, Bahasa Malaysia Editor

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 15 — Influential cleric Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin (picture) has come out to ask all states to review their Islamic enactments that bar non-Muslims from using terms and words such as ‘Allah’, saying laws should be updated from time to time.

The former Perlis mufti defended Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad’s proposal for Selangor to review laws such as its Non-Islamic Religion Enactment 1988 (Control of Propagations Among Muslims) that has raised the ire of some Muslims.

“Yes, I feel the proposal should be considered as part of contemporary development. The requirements from the past and present are not the same at all,” Asri told The Malaysian Insider in an exclusive interview yesterday.

Khalid’s proposal came in the wake of the controversial High Court ruling last Dec 31 when the Catholic weekly Herald was given the constitutional right to use the word ‘Allah’ to describe the Christian God among the Catholic congregation to the consternation of Muslims who say its exclusive to them.

“If the Internal Security Act (ISA) can be reviewed, don’t tell me these others laws cannot be reviewed,” he said, pointing out there are many words and phrases that have been barred from usage by non-Muslims.

Ten of Malaysia’s 13 states have banned non-Muslims from using up to 35 Arabic terms including the word ‘Allah’, ‘solat’ or prayers and even ‘masjid’ or mosque.

“How can we propagate our religion to others if we stop them (non-Muslims) from using certain words,” he asked.

Asri said the government should issue clear guidelines on such usage rather than rely on enactments.

“For example, the words masjid and rasul (prophet) can be used in the proper context… so don’t tell me we will take action against them, or arrest them for using the word ‘Allah’.

“Let us have discussions and do studies, maybe we can come to a conclusion to review or keep the word exclusive,” said the cleric who is facing a charge by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) for preaching without obtaining the necessary accreditation.

Asri, who was the country’s youngest mufti when he was appointed in 2006 in Perlis until he resigned two years later, lamented that such proposals have been dismissed without even a chance to be considered.

“I like this issue to be studied because I am worried that Islam will be seen as a tool that is used to pressure other people. I want Islam to be seen as a religion for all, a religion that practice moderation.

“In fact in states like Selangor and Johor, the state anthems use the word ‘Allah’, the police crest has the word ‘Allah’ just like the Royal Navy. They all have non-Muslim personnel so how does it work then.

“That is why we need to redefine the words that can be used or cannot be used by taking into account contemporary needs,” he added.

In Selangor, non-Muslims are barred from using 25 words either orally or in writing according to the Non-Islamic Religion Enactment 1988 (Control of Propagations Among Muslims). Among the words are Allah, Firman Allah (Allah’s decree), solat (daily prayers), Rasul (prophet), mubaligh (missionary), mufti, iman (faith), Kaabah (the Holy cubicle), Qiblat (direction in which the Muslims pray), and Haji (Muslims who have done his pilgrimage),

Selangor has also banned non-Muslims from using 10 other terms such as subhanallah, insya-Allah, astaghfirullahlah, masya-Allah and Allahuakbar orally or in writing. Those found guilty of using such terms can be fined up to RM3,000 or jailed for up to two years, or both.

Similar enactments are found in nine other states but not used in Sabah, Sarawak, Penang and the Federal Territory. Malacca, which does not have a sultan, has banned more words and phrases than most states.

The Selangor Islamic Affairs Council (Mais) deputy secretary Abdul Halem Hapiz Salihin had said the controversial ‘Allah’ ruling is against the Non-Islamic Religion Enactment 1988 (Control of Propagations Among Muslims).

But Khalid had recommended that all religious laws banning such words or terms should be reviewed as they are outdated, bringing him into open dispute with Kulim Bandar Baharu MP Zulkifli Noordin

Zulkifli, who is from PKR, lodged a police report against Khalid, saying the PAS Shah Alam division chief should be investigated under the Sedition Act for being seditious, insulting and affecting racial harmony.

Khalid sought an audience with the Sultan of Selangor, who is the head of religion, and was advised to offer his opinion through proper channels if he wanted a review of such laws.

Asri said the government should take the initiative to review the state laws. The federal government has no jurisdiction over religious laws which are under the purview of the states.

“I feel the government should remember that the issue should not be monopolised by the conservatives or traditionalists who want to maintain their position in society. Instead, they should get opinions from everybody if they want to encourage the 1Malaysia concept

“The government should invite moderate ulamas and not the conservatives. In this regard, I would like to commend Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who invited everyone to give their views,” Asri said, referring to a recent Institute of Islamic Understanding discussion on the ‘Allah’ issue which involved politicians from Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat.

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