21 Jan 2014

Agong’s speeches that confuse

FMT LETTER: From Ravinder Singh, via e-mail

The Agong’s two recent speeches, one upon the heels of the other, have left me, and I suppose many others, confused.

Celebrating Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, he was reported to have said “Let us together make every effort to strengthen brotherhood and bring about changes and improvements in the Islamic mould as taught by Prophet Muhammad in a moderate and balanced manner.”

The Agong had further said that the Prophet himself had succeeded in ridding the community of bad habits and a culture of fanatical beliefs and substituting these with a culture of tolerance and mutual understanding of one another.

“The Prophet had proven that diversity in society, regardless of whether it is in terms of religion, culture or language, is not a problem and obstacle to unity so long as the approach of ‘wasatiyyah’ (moderation) is adopted as a practice in life.”

In his own birthday speech a few days later, he told Malaysians that ‘several words including ‘Allah’ were the exclusive rights of Muslims, citing a 1986 decree by the National Fatwa Council on their use.’ 

He said the public should respect religious and social sensitivities, including on the ‘Allah’ issue, to preserve peace and stability in Malaysia.

As a layman, when I read the first speech, I had taken it literally that Muslims were advised to follow the example of the Prophet.

From what I have been reading, no one has quoted any verse from the Quran wherein the Prophet had told his followers to restrain others from using any words which were used by Muslims in their prayers.

Neither did the Prophet restrict the followers of other faiths from practicing their faiths in any location.

I am left wondering whether I’m naïve to understand that true Islam should be a replica of the life of the Prophet himself, or as close to it as humanly possible?

Thus when I read the second speech, I was confused as it said that a 1986 decree by the National Fatwa Council had banned non-Muslims from using certain words, including the word ‘Allah’.

Now, if any non-Muslims are caught using any of these words, under what provision of which law will they be charged and what penalty does that law provide?

Then what happens to the provision of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion and worship? Article 11 of the Constitution on the Freedom of Religion states as follows:

Article number: 11  -  Freedom of Religion

1 Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.

2 No person shall be compelled to pay any tax the proceeds of which are specially allocated in whole or in part for the purposes of a religion other than his own.

3 Every religious group has the right:

a) to manage its own religious affairs;
b) to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes;  and
c) to acquire and own property and hold and administer it in accordance with law.

4 State law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.

5 This Article does not authorise any act contrary to any general law relating to public order, public health or morality.

The only restriction imposed by the Constitution is as stated in Clause 4, i.e. “may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.”

So, isn’t the 1986 Decree or Fatwa ultra vires the Constitution? Has the National Fatwa Council powers to override the Federal Constitution?

Who gave the National Fatwa Council the authority or power to do what the Prophet himself would not do?

If by any stretch of the imagination it can be construed that the mere possession of a Bible or any other Holy Book with the word ‘Allah’ in it, or the saying of this word by non-Muslims in a non-Muslim prayer house, amounts to propagating that religion to Muslims, then the police might as well confiscate all the kitchen knives in every home as these can also be construed as weapons that can be used to murder people.

So, prevention is better than cure!

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