Freedom of Religion at Stake: So much for 1Malaysia

Wan Hilmi believes that Malaysians should not be wasting too much time fighting on something which is a non-issue in the first place, especially when it has a potential of setting us apart.


When a religious controversy arises, there will be a lot of hoo-ha among Malaysians – no matter how unproductive it is to debate about it. While our Primer Minister Dato Seri Najib Razak and his cabinet members are trying so hard to promote unity through their 1Malaysia concept, there is, arguably, zero tolerance amongst Malaysians when it comes to religious and/or racial issues, despite the fact that we have been living together for more than 50 years. Does this show that the 1Malaysia concept has failed to achieve its objective?

The most recent controversy is the usage of the word ‘Allah ’in Bahasa Malaysia Bibles. From my humble opinion, this so-called controversy is supposedly a non-issue provided you have fairness, justice, rationality, and reasonableness in mind. Despite the clear provision of Article 11 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion, there are still individuals and bodies acting against it, showing how childish and foolish can some be.  Majlis Agama Islam Selangor (MAIS), alongside with the Selangor Sultan’s decree, prohibited the usage of the word ‘Allah’ by all Christians.

There are also certain individuals who claim ‘Allah’ to be a term exclusive to Muslims only. The Perak Mufti stated, “Do not continue challenging, insulting Islam”. It is submitted that Christians should not be prohibited from using the word ‘Allah’ in their Bahasa Malaysia version of the Bible because to do so would be limiting and restricting the right of Christians to manage and practise their own religion. Just imagine if Muslims were a minority in Malaysia – where they would be prohibited from calling the Adhan using a loudspeaker, prohibited from performing Friday prayers as it causes traffic congestion – would these prohibitions not be frustrating to Muslims, if they were to exist?

Freedom of religion, in my opinion, is not just about allowing any religion to be in existence. It also includes, but is not limited to, how religions are to be managed and practised by their respective followers. My argument is premised on two notions – the Constitutional point of view and the Islamic point of view.


From the Constitutional point of view, it is absolutely clear that Article 11 of the Federal Constitution guarantees and protects freedom of religion. Article 11(1) states:

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

Furthermore, Article 11(3) stipulates that every religious group has the right, inter alia, (a) to manage its own religious affairs. Of course, it is admittedly true that this freedom is not absolute. The only restrictions are public order, public health and morality, as stated in Article 11(5). It would be an exaggeration to suggest that usage of the word ‘Allah’ in Bahasa Malaysia Bibles falls under any of these restrictions because I believe it is still within the scope of Articles 11(1) and 11(3) of the Federal Constitution.

Apart from Article 11, Article 3(4) is also a relevant provision in the context of this apparent controversy. This is because certain individuals purporting that the word ‘Allah’ be exclusive to Muslims had relied on Article 3(1) which states that Islam is the religion of the Federation. This was the basis of their argument that to allow Christians to use the word ‘Allah’ would be to make all religions equal. It is unfortunate to note that one of these individuals is our former Chief Justice.

These individuals also claim that Islam is far more superior to any other religion in the Federation by virtue of Article 3(1). It is submitted that Article 3(1) cannot be read alone, but must be read together with Article 3(4) which states that nothing in this Article derogates from any other provision of the Constitution. In other words, the constitutional right of freedom of religion in Article 11 is not extinguished notwithstanding the adoption of Islam as the religion of the Federation. It is also pertinent to note that the term ‘Islam’ in Article 3(1) only refers to the ritualistic and ceremonial role of Islam, as stated by Tun Salleh LP in Che Omar Che Soh v PP [1988] 2 MLJ 55. Thus, Article 3(1) does not bring any significant impact towards the other provisions of the Constitution, including the provisions on Fundamental Rights.


Now, looking from the Islamic point of view, I am certain that – although neither a religiously-trained ulama nor an al-Azhar graduate myself – Islam does not prohibit usage of the term ‘Allah’ by Christians, in spite of the differences between Islam and Christianity in terms of Aqidah (Faith). Islam believes in the concept that ‘Allah is Esa (One)’, while Christianity believes in the concept of the ‘Trinity’. Despite this fact, it is submitted that Christians should not be prohibited in using the term ‘Allah’.

Some individuals argue that it is wrong to allow them to do so because Christians do not subscribe to the view that ‘Allah is One’. If this argument were to be propounded, it would mean we are trying to shove Islamic beliefs down the throats of Christians. This is completely inconsistent to Islamic values and evident from the Surah (Chapter) of Baqarah, verse 256:

Let there be no compulsion in religion.

On top of that, nowhere in the Quran is it explicitly stated that prohibition on usage of the word ‘Allah’ by other faiths, particularly those of Abrahamic ones (Christian & Judaism).  In fact, there is a verse in the Quran which permits it – in the Chapter of Hajj (the Pilgrimage), verse 40, for example:

Had not Allah Checked and Balanced the aggression and excesses of one set or group of people by means of another, there would surely have been destruction of monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundance…

Furthermore, ‘Allah’ is ‘God’ to the whole Universe – regardless of ethnicity, skin colour and most importantly, faith. This is evident from the Chapter of Fatihah (the Opening), verse 2:

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.

If ‘Allah’ is the God or Lord of the whole Universe, why then do some Malay-Muslims – purporting to champion and protect the ‘sanctity’ of Islam – claim exclusivity of the word ‘Allah’?

I find it safe to conclude that allowance of the usage of the word ‘Allah’ by Christians is in line with principles of the Federal Constitution as well as those of Islam, a religion of a Mercy to Mankind – Rahmatan Lil ‘Alamin. Perhaps some Malaysians, particularly the Malay-Muslims, should open their hearts and minds so as to set themselves free from being unreasonably suspicious towards our Christian brothers and sisters.

Instead of spreading suspicion and hatred, would it not be better if we spread love and embrace the differences between us? Instead of building walls and preaching about the differences between Islam and Christianity, would it not be better for us to build bridges and find common ground between us, for the sake of Love, Peace, Tolerance and Humanity?


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Wan Hilmi adalah seorang pelajar yang kini sedang menuntut di sekolah Undang-undang yang terletak di Ibu Kota Kuala Lumpur. Wan Hilmi merupakan seorang pencinta kucing, penagih coklat dan peminat kereta. Wan Hilmi juga percaya bahawa terdapat lebih daripada dua cara untuk melihat sesuatu. Sebagai seorang warganegara Malaysia, Wan Hilmi mengimpikan keadilan, kesaksamaan dan keharmonian di dalam segala aspek di Negara Malaysia yang tercinta ini.

Posted on 24 February 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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