PETALING JAYA: You’re conducting a worship session with your pastor and neighbours at home when someone knocks on your gate.
You are told that they are from the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) and they are there to check on a report that words such as “Allah” are being used at the worship session.
Do they have a legal right to demand that you let them in?
No, said Malaysian Bar Council president Christopher Leong.
“Jais has no jurisdiction with respect to non-Muslims. Laws that are enacted at the state level with respect to Islamic matters have no effect with respect to non-Muslims and therefore non-Muslim individuals would be entitled to refuse entry to them,” said Leong.
However, the situation would be slightly different if they had come with the police?
In this case, Leong said the police could enter private premises only under certain circumstances, such as investigations of a criminal offence under the Penal Code.
He pointed out: “The police have no power to enter private premises of non-Muslims with respect to Islamic law provisions, and even if the owner of the premises may be obliged to let the police in, they would be within their rights to deny entrance to anyone else – including Jais officers.”
The above scenario is a possibility if Jais heeds the call from two Muslim non-governmental organisations, Pertubuhan Ikatan Kebajikan dan Dakwah Selangor (IKDDAS) and Selangor Perkasa.
Both NGOs have called for action to be taken against the organiser of the International Full Gospel Fellowship for having songs containing the word “Allah” at a closed-door function at a Klang hotel on Dec 22.
Jais director Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad reportedly said Jais would be calling in two individuals to record their statements as part of the investigation.
Ahmad Zaharin was also reported saying that churches in Selangor would soon receive letters from Jais reminding them to abide by the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988.
The Enactment prohibits non-Muslims from using 35 Arabic words and phrases in their faith, including “Allah”, “Nabi” (prophet), “Injil” (gospel) and “Insya’Allah” (God willing).
Attempts by The Star Online to get comments from Jais had not been succesful.
Similar advice was offered by Lawyers for Liberty co-founder Eric Paulsen, who said organisers of a private function or owners of a private premise should resist Jais’s demands as they have no authority over non-Muslims.
He said Jais could be liable for offences under criminal law and a suit under civil law if they used force to enter the premises or the private event.
He said if the police were to be present, the event organiser should cooperate with them and later, challenged the legal validity of their actions.
“The organiser can rely on the Federal Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech,” said Paulsen.
Criminal defence lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad agreed with Leong and Paulsen that Jais has no jurisdiction over the welfare of non-Muslims.
“If, for example, they turn up at a pastor’s house – they cannot enter because they have no jurisdiction.
“The authorities have to have a clear understanding as to the limits of their jurisdiction as to what they can and cannot do,” said Amer Hamzah.
He said that the extent to which a religious authority could enforce an Enactment on non-Muslims needs to be studied in depth, pointing out that current laws do not allow non-Muslims to be subjected to the jurisdiction of the Syariah courts.
“This applies wherever a non-Muslim is, regardless of whether they are at a public or private place – if Jais has no jurisdiction over them, they have no right to conduct any action,” said Amer Hamzah.
He added that while any Enactment could be passed, the real test is whether it can be constitutionally enforceable or not.
“If it touches on non-Muslims, it may be unconstitutional,” said Amer Hamzah.
BY TAN YI LIANG, the Star