Many of us would like to express our gratitude to Selangor MB, Azmin Ali for orchestrating the return of the Malay and Iban language bibles which were seized by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) in January 2014
Under the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution (which contains the legislative lists), religion is under the purview of the state
As per Frank Murphy (former US Supreme Court judge), “religious freedom is too sacred a right to be restricted or prohibited in any degree without convincing proof that a legitimate interest of the state is in grave danger”
Although religious issues are under the scope of the state, it is trite law that state enactments cannot contradict the Federal Constitution which is the ultimate law of the land.
Prima facie, the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation among Muslims) Enactment 1988 is constitutional as it is made as per Article 11(4) Federal Constitution which allows for laws to be made to control or restrict the propogation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam
Under section 9(1)(a) of the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation among Muslims) Enactment 1988,
a person commits an offence if he in any published writing uses any of the words listed in Part I of the Schedule, or any of its derivatives or variations, to express or describe any fact, belief, idea, concept, act, activity, matter, or thing of or pertaining to any non-Islamic religion
At first glance it appears as though as the Malay and Iban bibles breached s. 9(1)(a) by virtue of containing “Allah.” However, there shouldn’t be an offence under the enactment for the following reasons
Firstly, there is no proof of propogation because the bibles were taken from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM)’s premises. At most, JAIS can say they acted under suspicion, but whether their suspicion is reasonable is a different story
Then BSM president, Lee Min Choon, pointed out that all its Malay bibles were imprinted with a picture of the cross and the words ‘Penerbitan Kristian’ on the cover and noted that the Home Ministry regularly inspects its bible shipment imports .
This is a huge sacrifice on the part of BSM to abide by the law in order to ensure that its customers may have access to Malay bibles
As to why the bibles are in our national language, “more than 60 per cent of Malaysian Christians only speak Bahasa Malaysia, and the word used for God in the Bahasa Malaysia Bible (Al-Kitab) since its translation in 1731, is “Allah.”
“The word is used by Bumiputera Christians who only have Bahasa Malaysia as their common language in Sabah, Sarawak and peninsular Malaysia, and by the Baba community in Malacca” (Christian Federation of Malaysia)
Regarding why the Bibles are in Selangor and not in Sabah and Sarawak, it is important to note that BSM is the one that imports, prints and distributes Malay bibles to Sarawak and Sabah (as per Nic Ng, BSM’s executive council member). Perhaps the bibles were in storage awaiting importation?
Even if some of the bibles were not to be imported, it shouldn’t be an issue that the bibles are in Selangor because there are Malay speaking Christians in peninsula Malaysia (e.g. sabahans and sarawakians who come over looking for jobs)
If Malay language bibles aren’t allowed in Selangor, it would most definitely infringe on the right of the Malay speaking Christians to freely practice their religion (enshrined in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution)
In June, after much investigation and deliberation, the Attorney-General (AG) accurately concluded that JAIS erred in seizing the bibles and ordered for the case to be closed.
US Politician, Mike Quigley once wisely said that the “protection of religious freedom means considering the faiths and beliefs of everyone involved.”
In future, JAIS and other religious enforcement agencies should not be so overzealous, especially when dealing with holy books of other religions. Perhaps a more thorough investigation (which would have made the raid unnecessary) could have prevented this dark dent in our history
Even if the roles were reversed and Qur’ans were superfluously seized, right thinking Malaysians would stand up and speak out against the blatant infringement of the freedom of religion!
*This awesome article featured in The Malaysian Insider, Malaysiakini, Malaysia Chronicle, and The Malay Mail Online
The whole “Allah” issue has somewhat been a thorn in our flesh. Just recently, Selangor MB, Azmin Ali exclaimed that the siezed Bibles belongs to the Christians and should thus be returned to them.
Abu Bakar Yahya (Selangor Perkasa chief) then expressed his concern that Azmin’s action of returning the Bibles with the word “Allah” in them would “…threaten the future of Malay Muslim youth. This means Islam is under threat”
Despite the fact that the Christian Federation of Malaysia wrote an article explaining when, why, and how the word “Allah” is used in the Al-Kitabs, there is still a general lack of understanding amongst Malaysians.
Let me now clarify that I’m not a religious scholar or even remotely trained in the field of comparative religions. I am just a Malaysian who is trying to be objective about the use of the word “Allah” by Christians
Let us consider the following propositions:
Proposition 1: “Allah” is an arabic word
Many academics hold the view that the word “Allah” is derived from the arabic words “al” (the) and “ilah” (god/deity).
“Allah is formed by joining the definite article al meaning ‘the’ with Ilah (God). Literally, Allah means ‘The God’.” [Huston Smith, The World’s Religions, p.222]
“Etymologically, Allah is probably a contraction of the Arabic al-ilahh, “the God,” although the Aramaic Alaha has also been proposed. The origin of the name can be traced to the earliest Semitic writings in which the word for god was Il or El, the latter bring in the Old Testament synonym for Yahweh. Known to Arabs even in pre-Islamic times, Allah is standard Arabic for God and is used by Arab Christians as well as Muslims.” [Encyclopedia Britannica Micropedia (Vol. 1; p. 250)]
Renowned Iranian-American scholar of religious studies, Reza Aslan also supports this proposition
[d] (k) r ‘l’-’lh bn’mt Mnfw w-Tlh’ bn Mr’ l-Qys w-Srgw bn S’dw w-Strw w-Syl [.] thw.
The apparent scribblings above is actually a pre-Islamic archaeological inscription (dated ca. 512AD) found in Zabad (60km south-east of Aleppo) that shows the word al-ilah was already used by Christians then
Operating on the assumption that “Allah” was derived from “al” and “ilah,” the only apparent requirement to the use of the Arabic word would be monotheism. As we all know, words must be used according to its meaning, and in the proper context
A huge misconception is that Christians believe and worship three gods, hence their usage of the “Allah” word is erroneous. That could not be further from the truth!
The doctrine of the Trinity refers to ONE God who exists as THREE distinct persons. The fact that Christians believe in and worship only ONE God would render their usage of the word “Allah” according to its meaning and in the proper context
If “Allah” is truly an Arabic word, it’s definition would be based on its meaning and not what the Qur’an says in Surah Al-Ikhlas (112th Sura of the Qur’an) or what other sources say are the prerequisite to the use of the word
Many scholars have also brought forward the idea that the use of “Allah” predates Islam
The word ‘Allah’ was a term used for the supreme God in a pantheon of gods, before the revelation of Islam. (The Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam ed., H.A.R. Gibb & J.H.Kramer and The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, ed. John L. Esposito)
“The name Allah is also evident in archaeological and literary remains of pre Islamic Arabia” (Dr Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret , New York:OUP, 1956, p. 31)
“Allah is found . . . in Arabic inscriptions prior to Islam” ( Encyclopedia Britannica, I:643)
The translation of the Al-Kitab is not from the English translation but based on the Hebrew and Greek text of the Bible. In the Hebrew language, the word ‘God’ has the same root form as the Arabic language. So, when the word ‘God’ was first translated into Bahasa Malaysia, the translators merely followed the Arabic Christian usage and retained the word ‘Allah’
Historically, Malay-speaking Christians in South-East Asia have used ‘Allah’ to refer to God. The proofs are as follows:
• The Kitab salat as-sawai or Christian catechisms in Malay written in 1514 and published around 1545,
• The printed version of the Gospel of Matthew in Malay by A.C. Ruyl in 1629,
• Malay-Latin Dictionary was printed in Rome in 1631 (The Dictionarium Malaicum-Latinum and Latinum – Malaicum)
• The translation of Genesis by D. Brouwerius (1662),
• M. Leijdecker’s translation (1733),
• H.C. Klinkert’s translation (1879),
• W.A. Bode’s translation (1938), and
• The complete Malay Bible of 1731-1733 containing the word ‘Allah’ for God.
There is also a book from the 19th century titled “Porkara Terakhir” (The Final Matter). It is a book of prayers for Catholics in native Malay. A text in the book goes, “Ia, Maha Penebus ku, tiap kali beita sudah buat dosa, sudahlah beita mengalau angkau deri hati ku, sambel choba membunoh Allah sabuleh nha…” It is a day-to-day language of the ancient or olden Malay Language; sentences like that do not exist in the Indonesian language
Furthermore, there is a Catholic prayer book titled “Worship Daily”, published in 1890, which also used ancient Malay. An example of a text in the book is “Sapuloh Penhurohan Allah”, which is the 10 Pillars of Biblical Commandments (Ten Commandments). Note how both of those books use the word “Allah” to mean God
Not many of us are aware by this but even the Sikh holy book mentions “Allah” quite a number of times. Surprisingly we don’t hear the likes of Perkasa and ISMA creating a ruckus over this fact.
Proposition 2: “Allah” is not an Arabic word
“Allah … is a proper name applied to the Being Who exists necessarily, by Himself, comprising all the attributes of perfection, a proper name denoting the true god … the al being inseparable from it, not derived…” (Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon)
If Allah is not an arabic word, is it only exclusive to muslims considering their worldwide usage? In January 2013, PAS’ Syura Council decreed that “Allah” is a specific and holy word used to refer to the Muslims’ god
However, former Perlis mufti, Dato’ Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin said that Islam allows for followers of other faiths to call their gods “Allah” if they are referring to the Supreme Being
Swiss-Muslim theologian Dr Tariq Ramadan is also of the opinion that “Allah” is not exclusive to the Muslims
According to Francis Edwards Peters , “The Qur’ān insists, Muslims believe, and historians affirm that Muhammad and his followers worship the same God as the Jews (29:46)
If indeed no one but the muslims are allowed to use “Allah,” wouldn’t Saudi Arabia (where Islam came from) and Indonesia (the country with the largest population of muslims in the world) have said/did something about it a long time ago?
Instead, what we see is that the usage of “Allah” is tolerated and is not even a point of contention in those countries (unlike here in Malaysia)
Now let’s look at some frequently asked questions
FAQ 1: Why must the Christians use BM?
First and foremost, BM is the national language. On top of that, more than 60 per cent of Malaysian Christians only speak Bahasa Malaysia, and the word used for God in the Bahasa Malaysia Bible (Al-Kitab) since its translation in 1731, is ‘Allah’.
The word is used by Bumiputera Christians who only have Bahasa Malaysia as their common language in Sabah, Sarawak and peninsular Malaysia, and by the Baba community in Malacca.
Nowehere in English, Tamil or Mandarin church services would you hear the word “Allah” being mentioned
FAQ 2: Why don’t Christians use “Tuhan” as the BM translation for “God”?
The current position in the Al-Kitab is that “Tuhan” is used as the BM translation for “Lord” while “Allah” is used for “God.” In Isaiah chapter 41 and verse 13; also 43:3 and 51:15. “For I am the LORD, your GOD…” is translated as “Akulah TUHAN, ALLAH kamu…”. (ALKITAB : Berita Baik. 2001. 2nd edition. Published by the Bible Society of Malaysia).
It creates an absurd situation if Christians have to translate the biblical phrase ‘Lord God’ as Tuhan Tuhan. The repeated words Tuhan Tuhan indicates plurality in Bahasa Malaysia, and creates the false impression that Christians believe in many gods, which is fundamentally incorrect theologically
FAQ 3: Why doesn’t the Vatican or Christians in the West use “Allah”?
The answer is pretty simple. If “Allah” is an arabic word for “God”, the Vatican and the Christians in the West wouldn’t need to use it because they have other word(s) in their language(s) to mean “God”
A basic analogy would be the word “makan” which is the BM word for “eat.” How come we never ask why the Vatican or Westerners don’t use the word “makan”? That’s because it’s common sense that in whatever language they speak, there would be a word/words that mean “eat,” hence there is no need for the word “makan”
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI used “Al-Rab” when giving a blessing in Arabic. Many Malaysians then got the idea that instead of using “Allah,” why not follow the Pope and use “Al-Rab”?
First of all, Al-Rab is arabic for “The Lord” and NOT “The God.” Therefore, even if the Christians in Malaysia were to use “Al-Rab,” it would only be replacing the word “Tuhan” and not the word “Allah” in the Al-Kitab
Besides that, the literal meaning of the word “Rab” is Sustainer , Master and/or “Nourisher” which bears more resemblance with the English word “Lord” than “God”
FAQ 4: Why not use “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” instead?
The answer is similar to that of FAQ 1. Jehovah is a Latinisation of the Hebrew יְהֹוָה , a vocalization of the Tetragrammaton יהוה (YHWH). YHWH is in ancient Hebrew which has no vowels, thus its pronunciation is not agreed on.
However, most academics agree that “Yahweh” is the most accepted way to say it. In some English language Bibles, YHWH is written in all capital letters as “LORD,” as in Jewish tradition
Jehovah and Yahweh are in English. The issue is, how do we convert the original Hebrew word to BM in order that it may be used in the Al-Kitab? And even IF that’s possible, how do you change hundreds of years of using “Allah” to this new word?
– Christian Federation of Malaysia’s article
– Project Dialogue’s interview of Father Andrew
– The Micah Mandate
– Bible Believers
– PLIM Report
– Sikhi Wiki
– The Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement
The Selangor Menteri Besar impasse has left a bitter taste in many of our mouths, especially of those in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition. Inter alia, we have seen bickering, backstabbing, craven acts, and a myriad of volte-face.
It has been an abject past few months to say the least. Even in the aftermath, we have boorish comments (such as Lim Guan Eng labelling the former 4 PAS excos that stood by Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim as “traitors” and PAS Youth saying PAS will one day leave PR) coming from the different PR parties which are supposed to be Malaysia’s hope of one day replacing Barisan Nasional (BN) as the federal government
It’s time that PR stops drying their dirty linen in public. The more insults hurled at one another in public, the less confidence the people have in PR as a whole. A survey by The Malaysian Insider and Merdeka Center indicated that PR may lose Selangor if snap polls were held
PR should learn to settle their differences behind closed doors. They can learn a lot from the constitutional convention of collective ministerial responsibility (a.k.a cabinet collective responsibility) whereby members of the Cabinet must publicly support all governmental decisions made in Cabinet, even if they do not privately agree with them
Basically the PR component parties must maintain a united front and all toe the line. No more puerile statements made in public! Behind the scenes is where discussions are held, ideas are ridiculed, chairs are hurled, name calling is done, etc
PR’s current system of operating on consensus has proven to be greatly flawed in the recently concluded Selangor MB saga. PKR and DAP agreed on only nominating Dr Wan Azizah’s name but PAS had something else in mind.
There was clearly no consensus and the fact that PKR and DAP were so obdurate and kept insisting on having their way shows that the consensus system is more effective theoretically than practically
OMG!’s proposed decision making mechanism will greatly benefit PR. His/her proposal is that each member of the PR triumvirate be allotted votes to decide on matters involving PR according to its representation in Parliament and state assemblies, with 60% allocated to Parliament and 40% to all 13 state assemblies.
“(a) First, the number of Parliament seats is divided: (PAS: DAP: PKR) as (21:38:29) at GE13
(b) The number of state seats is divided similarly as (85:95:48) at GE 13.
Note: In both cases, PKR’s total has been reduced by one state seat and 1 Parliament seat reflecting Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s new Independent status.
(c) After applying the 60:40 weightage, we find that the votes, within PR, to be allotted to the 3 members PAS:DAP:PKR, are 29:43:28. Total 100 votes in the new proposed system.
The present, less satisfactory consensus/(agree to disagree) approach could now be replaced by a 2/3 majority vote, i.e., a 2/3 majority of 67 votes means that the decision is adopted by PR and dissenting members must fall in line”
Regarding any decision, the PR parties will meet up, deliberate, and then vote on the issue. The moment a 2/3 majority is achieved, the issue is resolved and every party has to stand firm with it.
This decision-making system that is similar to the “electoral collegial system which governs the US presidential elections based on the results in the various states” would prevent further straining the already strained relationship between PKR, DAP, and PAS
The parties not happy with the votes allotted to them can work harder to win more seats in the 14th General Election in order to increase their say in PR policies & decisions. This proposal appears to be the panacea that PR has been looking for. The idea should be seriously and thoroughly considered!
*This article also appeared in The Malaysian Insider, The Malay Mail Online, and Malaysia Today
Out of the blue, Sungai Air Tawar assemblyman Kamarol Zaki Abdul Malik decided to table a motion to discuss hudud and its possible implementation in Selangor
What was more shocking was that Selangor Speaker, Hannah Yeoh decided to allow for the motion to be debated in the state legislative assembly
The Selangor Speaker set a good example by allowing hudud to be debated. After all, it is an issue which has been plaguing Malaysians.
Selangorians would definitely want to hear both sides of the political divide arguing their case
Many felt that the motion was to trap Pakatan Rakyat. If Hannah Yeoh were to disapprove of the motion, she would be labelled as anti-Islam, and afraid to deal with the sensitive issue
Despite being criticised for her decision to allow the motion to be debated, Hannah Yeoh stood firm on her principle of being a neutral and fair Speaker to all parties, and maintained her decision
When a motion was tabled to debate about hudud in Terengganu, the Speaker decided to not allow the matter to come to pass. Barisan Nasional is capable of pushing for hudud in Terengganu as they form the state government by virtue of having the most seats in the state assembly
Isnt it ironic that UMNO decided to talk about hudud in Selangor when they discarded the very same issue in Terengganu?
Unfortunately, Kamarol Zaki Abdul Malik decided to withdraw the motion in Selangor. This lead to the rakyat questioning the sincerity of UMNO regarding the issue
As Muslims believe hudud to be God’s law, it should not be manipulated for political gains. Such revolting acts only reflect poorly on spirituality of the perpetrator(s)
As if that wasnt enough, Selangor BN put the onus on PAS to push for hudud in Selangor. Talk about looking at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye but not paying attention to the plank in your eyes!
Moving on, it was reported today that 10 written questions submitted by Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (ADUN for Kajang) was rejected by the Selangor state legislative assembly by virtue of exceeding the 40 word limit imposed on each question
Guess who was behind such a bold decision? If you guessed Hannah Yeoh, you are right!
Hannah Yeoh is doing a superb job as a Speaker and is setting a very good precedent for others in a similar position of authority. Her impartiality and strict obedience of the rules is nothing short of praiseworthy!
Ladies and gentlemen, in Hannah Yeoh we have a good example!
*Read it also at The Malaysian Insider and The Malay Mail Online
Under statute, Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (JAIS) only has power over muslims. Theoretically it seems pretty clear cut but what happens when a certain scenario involves non-muslims?
Malaysians were dealt with another blow when JAIS allegedly trespassed into a Hindu temple “to stop a traditional wedding ceremony where the bride is apparently a Muslim.”
In protecting Islam & Muslims, does JAIS have the power to infringe on the rights of non-muslims? This is a question that needs urgent addressing.
The courts could make a landmark decision which would bury this issue once and for all, or the Selangor State Assembly could amend the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) 1988, to unambiguously define the scope of JAIS’ authority
One can argue about their rights under Article 11 (guaranteeing the freedom of religion) till the cows come home but in actual fact, the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) 1988 is not unconstitutional as per Article 11(4)
Although many critics pointed out correctly that JAIS seems to have trespassed onto a place of worship, many failed to notice that on top of that, JAIS disturbed a religious ceremony (i.e. the wedding)
Section 296 of the Penal Code makes it a criminal offence to voluntarily cause disturbance to any assembly lawfully engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies.
The aggrieved parties should report this matter to the authorities and allow them to investigate and take further action if necessary. Although JAIS may have been acting under a statutory duty, it seems as if they crossed the line when they interfered with the wedding
Another question that needs clarification is regarding unilateral conversions. In the case of this bride, she was converted by her father when she was a child.
Although the courts ruled that unilateral conversions are legal, the decision seems to be in conflict with the Guardianship of Infants Act 1961. Unfortunately after so long, we are back to square one
In order to resolve this issue, the courts need to overrule their previous decision(s) or Parliament needs to amend the statute to reflect the same view as the courts
Maintaining the status quo is out of the question as it causes uncertainty as well as leaves the law open for manipulation by certain parties
* Read it also at The Malay Mail Online