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Malaysia to streamline rules on non-Muslims using the word ‘Allah’: PM Anwar

The Malay rulers had decided that the word "Allah" cannot be used by non-Muslims in the Peninsula while conditional usage is allowed in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak. 

Malaysia to streamline rules on non-Muslims using the word ‘Allah’: PM Anwar

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim speaking in parliament during the Minister's Question Time (MQT) on May 23, 2023. (Photo: Bernama)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said on Tuesday (May 23) that the government will streamline conflicting regulations regarding the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims. 

This is so that the regulations will be in line with the Malay rulers’ earlier decision that “Allah” cannot be used by non-Muslims in the Peninsula while conditional use is permitted for non-Muslims in the Borneo states. 

“What needs to be done … is for the government to streamline (the rules) so that there are no regulations that are seen to be in conflict with the decisions of the Malay rulers,” said Mr Anwar in parliament during the Minister's Question Time (MQT).

He added that the government “fully (complies) with the decisions” of the Malay rulers. 

He was responding to Mr Idris Ahmad, the Bagan Serai Member of Parliament (MP), who asked for clarification regarding Mr Anwar’s comments that the use of the word “Allah” can be used by non-Muslims in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak. 

Looking ahead, Mr Anwar also told parliament that the streamlining process, which was presented to and approved by the king, involves amending or removing parts of the old regulations. 

A proposal to improve the regulations relating to the use of the word by non-Muslims will be presented at the Conference of Rulers meeting in July, he added. 

Mr Anwar also explained: “What was decided by the court (in 2021), whether it is the court in Borneo or the high court here, is based on two conflicting rules which are the Ministry of Home Affairs rules that were made before (in 1986).” 

On Mar 10, 2021, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that Christians can use the word 'Allah' and the three other Arabic words - Baitullah (house of God), solat (pray) and Kaabah (the building at the centre of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, which is the direction of prayer for Muslims around the world) - in the publication of their religious material for learning purposes.

The ruling reportedly came after Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, a Christian woman from Sarawak, applied for judicial review on Aug 20, 2008, for the return of eight compact discs (CDs) with titles containing the word "Allah" which were confiscated from her on May 11 of the same year.

She had also applied for a declaration of her constitutional rights to use the word "Allah" in her Christian publications.

According to Bernama, under the Cabinet Directive 1986, Christians are allowed to use the four Arabic words in their religious publication for educational purposes on condition that the words “For Christians” are written on the cover of such books. However, the Administrative Directive issued by the Home Affairs Ministry in December of the same year prohibits the use of the four Arabic words in all Christian publications in Malaysia.

On Mar 12, 2021, the federal government filed an appeal against the ruling but this appeal was withdrawn on May 15 this year, sparking controversy over the decades-long debate. 

Following this, questions were raised on whether the Malay rulers and state religious councils had been consulted. 

Mr Anwar on Tuesday stated: “The issue of (the Conference of Rulers and state religious councils) not being consulted does not even arise.” 

Explaining the government’s decision to withdraw the appeal, Mr Anwar told parliament that it was so that the government could strengthen the regulations so that there is no room for such matters to be brought to the court in the future. 

“The AG (attorney-general) thinks that the case is weak because of the regulations made by the Home Affairs Ministry.

“The decision (to withdraw the appeal), in the AG’s view and (after I referred to) the king, is (so that we can) improvise and streamline (the regulations).

“Otherwise, the case will arise again because there is a contradiction (in the regulations). For that reason, we (withdrew the case) to amend all the rules so it is clear that there is no case that can be brought to the courts (in the future),” he said. 

Source: CNA/ya(nm)


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