Lawyers and a non-Muslim religious group agreed with Christian churches that the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) has no legal authority to seize any Bible containing the word “Allah” as was done yesterday.
They said that Jais had acted beyond its authority and infringed the religious rights of non-Muslims, a guarantee provided under the Federal Constitution, and could lead to legal suits for committing several civil wrongs like trespass and unlawful detention.
Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) president Jagir Singh (pic) said Jais' action violated the religious freedom of non-Muslims.
"Article 11 (4) of the Constitution guarantees all religions the right to practise and profess their faith freely in accordance with law," he told The Malaysian Insider.
He said the Bibles were meant only for Christians and not intended as a tool to propagate the religion among Muslims in Selangor or elsewhere.
His comments were similar to the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) which said Jais had overstepped its authority in raiding the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM).
CCM general-secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri said they were alarmed by the seizure of some 300 Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia and Iban.
In yesterday's incident, 15 Jais personnel and two policemen went to the BSM office in Damansara Kim, Petaling Jaya, and demanded to be let in without producing a search warrant or any authorisation letters.
The Jais team then raided the premises and confiscated more than 300 copies of the Alkitab and the Bup Kudus, the Iban Bible, based on the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation among Muslims) Enactment 1988.
Christians make up about 9% of the Malaysian population, or 2.6 million. Almost two-thirds are Bumiputeras and are largely based in Sabah and Sarawak, where they routinely use Bahasa Malaysia and indigenous languages in their religious practices, including describing God as “Allah” in their prayers and holy book.
Besides the Bumiputera Christians from Sabah and Sarawak, some of whom have moved to the peninsula to live and work, Orang Asli Christians in the peninsula also typically use Bahasa Malaysia in their worship.
Jagir said Jais could not rely on the state enactment to raid the premises as a provision in that law had been declared illegal by a High Court judge Datuk Lau Bee Lan in 2009.
He said Lau's interpretation of state enactments, including Selangor, remained good law as the Court of Appeal which heard Putrajaya's appeal on the “Allah” issue did not touch on that matter.
He also said the 1988 Selangor enactment 1988 intended to punish non-Muslims from using the word but the Constitution overrides any state enactment.
Jagir also appealed to Putrajaya to advise religious authorities to act with justice and conscience.
"There should not be arbitrary exercise of power," he added.
Lawyer for Liberty adviser Eric Paulsen said the raiding party's entry into the BSM premises was illegal although Jais officials were accompanied by policemen.
"To start with, Jais has no power over non-Muslims. So where is the justification to enter the premises?"
Paulsen said Jais would have committed civil wrong for trespass, wrong arrest and detention.
"I doubt the police will act against Jais and BSM has to file civil suits to claim damages for entering its premises without authority," he said.
Paulsen also did not rule out the "incident" as a red herring by higher authorities to divert attention following the recent spate of price hikes of essential items and the electricity tariff.
Lawyer Karpal Singh said Jais' action clearly demonstrated it had no respect for the law.
"By now Jais senior officials should know that they have no power over non-Muslims and their religions but choose to ignore the current legal position."
He said the police accompanied Jais officials to keep the peace and prevent any untoward incident.
Karpal hoped the Selangor government would act swiftly to ensure Jais did not act according to its whim and fancy.
Lawyer Fahri Azzat said Jais' action was a cause for concern.
"They have no power to enter, search and confiscate items. What more about arrest and detaining suspect."
Fahri said non-Muslims could not be charged in a syariah court for a criminal offence.
"Was it done deliberately and what was their motive?" he asked.
The raid comes after the editor of Catholic weekly, Herald, Father Lawrence Andrew said that Catholic churches in Selangor would continue to use the word “Allah” in their weekend services in Bahasa Malaysia, which are primarily attended by Sabah and Sarawak folk.
The comments came following a statement from the new director of Jais Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad, who said the state religious authorities would draw up a list of Selangor churches before writing to ask them to comply with Selangor's Islamic laws on the matter.
The state enactment, which was passed by the then Barisan Nasional state government, prohibits non-Muslims in Selangor from using 35 Arabic words and phrases, including “Allah”, “Nabi” (prophet), “Injil” (gospel) and “Insya'Allah” (God willing). – January 3, 2014.