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Unreasonable Ban of “Allah” among non-Muslims

Saturday, 09 February 2013 00:00

Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Taoism & Sikhism (MCCBCHTS) released a proclamation on 5 February 2013, highlighting through the clauses in the Federal Constitution, proving that the ban of using the word “Allah”, as proposed by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS), is against the constitution, and urges the organisations to continue using the word “Allah”. The Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia (YBAM) supports the proclamation made by MCCBCHTS.

Under the Malaysia Social Contract was drafted during the formation of the country, and the contract ensures that people and government understand their rights and responsibilities1. The Malaysia Social Contract was included in the Federal Constitution, where it is stated in article 3(1) that “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation”. In the Reid Commission Report, it was mentioned that “The religion of Malaysia shall be Islam. The observance of this principle shall not impose any disability on non-Muslim nationals professing and practising their own religion, and shall not imply that the State is not a secular State”

The drafted version of the constitution does not affect the continuance of the present position in the States concerning the recognition of Islam or to prevent the recognition of Islam in the Federation by legislation or otherwise in any respect which does not prejudice the non-Muslims in terms of their civil rights. Majority of the members in the Reid Commission felt that it was best to leave the matter on this basis, as they were informed by the Counsel for the Ruler that Their Highness considered the point of view that they do in favour on the declaration of the suggestion of Islam to be the established religion of the Federation. However, Justice Abdul Hamid, a member of the Reid Commission from Pakistan disagreed and felt that since it is the unanimous suggestion from coalition parties, and hence it should be accepted. Initially the Malay Rulers objected the addition of such insertion into the Federal Constitution, as the Counsel of the Ruler told them that if there is an official religion in the Federation, and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of the Federation will also be the leader of the official religion, and this contradicts with the position of the State Rulers as the Religious leader in the states2. The coalition parties then explained that this was not to interfere with the position of the State Rulers as the Religious Leader in the states, but as for the Federal liturgical purposes. The explanation was accepted, and the Article 3(1) of the Federation Constitution stated that “Islam is the religion of the Federal”, which the phrase “but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation” in the later stage. In order to follow the revelation of the Rulers, the Article 3(2) states that “In every State other than States not having a Ruler the position of the Ruler as the Head of the religion of Islam in his State in the manner and to the extent acknowledged and declared by the Constitution, all rights, privileges, prerogatives and powers enjoyed by him as Head of that religion, are unaffected and unimpaired; ...” In order to ensure that the rights of non-Muslims are not affected, the phrase “Nothing in this Article derogates from any other provision of this Constitution” was added in Article 3(4). Hence, it can be seen that the addition of “Islam is the religion of the Federation” is for the liturgical purposes, and observance of this principle allows non-Muslims to have the freedom to practice other non-Islam religions3.

The religious freedom among the people is secured by the Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. It is also stated in Article 11(3) that each religion is also responsible for their own management of religious affairs, with the exception in Article 11(4) non-Muslims are restricted from the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam. The use of “Allah” in the non-Muslim doctrines which is only circulated among non-Muslims, and not to propagate the doctrines to the Muslims, is permitted in the Federal Constitution. Hence, the act of MAIS to ban the use of word “Allah” is against the Federal Constitution and the Malaysia Social Contract. The Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the Federation, and according to Article 4, and inconsistency with this Constitution is treated to be voided. In other words, the ban ordered by MAIS is invalid.

Furthermore, looking from the perspective of the religious freedom and overlap between religions, the ban is extremely unreasonable, and would possibly lead to religious confusion. Among the religions, it is unavoidable to have certain overlaps and re-definitions in the respective doctrines. In addition to the word “Allah”, other words, including “Moses” also appears in the Monotheism doctrines, and hence there is no reason to ban other religions to use the word just because the word appears in one’s doctrine. When the Buddha propagated the Dharma, he had new definitions to the Vedas so as to let the devotees to understand the truths. If the Buddha was banned to re-define the Veda, then the sentient beings would lose the chance to be enlightened from the Dharma. Also, when the Buddhism was propagated to China, the Chinese folk beliefs absorbed the concepts of Buddhism leading to the fact that Buddhas and Boddhisattvas had become the objects for worship. Then, it would be unreasonable not to ask the Chinese not to worship the Buddhas and Boddhisattvas, as they belong to Buddhism.

Hence, YBAM holds the stand that the ban of word “Allah” in the religious doctrine is unreasonable and create confusions among religions. 1. Report of the Federation of Malaya Constitutional Commission 1957, no. 169 p. 73. 2. Report of the Federation of Malaya Constitutional Commission 1957, p. 100. 3. Ahmad Ibrahim “the Position of Islam in the Constitution of Malaysia”, in Mohd Suffian “The Constitution of Malaysia, its Development : 1957-1977” p.48-49