Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Abide by A-G, he has final say - The STAR

AS a Muslim and a student of constitutional law, I am embarrassed and dismayed by the overzealousness and oppressiveness of several actions of Mais (Selangor Islamic Religious Council) and Jais (Selangor Islamic Religious Department) over the last few months.
Among them are the seizure of 321 Bibles from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) on Jan 2, the raid on a Hindu temple to arrest a Hindu bride suspected of being a Muslim and the more recent defiance by these state authorities of the constitutional decision by our Attorney-General, Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, that BSM has committed no offence in importing or possessing Bibles in the Malay or Iban languages.
The A-G is the country’s highest legal officer under Article 145 of the Federal Constitution. It is he, and not Jais, whose power is to decide whether prosecution must commence before a civil court. (BSM is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Syariah Courts.)
The A-G is appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the advice of the Prime Minister. His status is that of a Federal Court judge and to brush aside his views on a matter with significant constitutional, international and political implications smacks of recklessness and arrogance.
It is legally true that under Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution, state assemblies are authorised to “control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among” Muslims.
In pursuance of this power, Selangor has enacted Section 9 of the Non-Islamic Religion (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 banning the use of 35 words, including the term “Allah”. This law is an overkill and (in my view) clearly unconstitutional. It does not link the usage of the banned words to propagation. Most absurdly, it imposes an absolute ban.
The word Allah appears in the Selangor state anthem. The words Allah and Muhammad appear on every police badge. Are we then to believe that every non-Muslim police officer wearing the police badge is attempting to proselytise Muslims and must, therefore be prosecuted?
To make sense of this law, it must be read in light of the rest of the Constitution, especially Article 10 on free speech and Article 11 on freedom of religion. Only if the usage affects public order, national security or amounts to propagation, can the law be triggered.
This is also the learned view of the A-G who found that the import and possession of the Bibles by BSM did not violate the terms of any law.
As to the Mais and Jais view that the seized Bibles must not be returned but must be referred to the court to be disposed of under Section 407A of the Criminal Procedure Code, my understanding is that the section applies only if a charge is framed. The A-G has already said that there will be no charge.
According to Mais and Jais, the A-G is wrong. The order of the Selangor government is wrong. Only Mais and Jais are right.
This smacks of pride and arrogance which is both a threat to our system of rule of law and a violation of the spirit of Islam.

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