Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Lawyers have urged hoteliers in Pahang - third largest state in Malaysia - to ignore the directive from the state Islamic council to remove non-Muslim (like Bible) religious materials from their premises as it has no authority over such matters. The constitutional and administrative lawyers said the Pahang Islamic and Malay Customs Council (Muip) was not in any position to penalize any individual or company as hoteliers were not licensed by religious bodies. They were responding to a recent directive from Muip prohibiting hotel proprietors in the state from placing religious reading materials of other religions other than Islam in their rooms.
Lawyer Razlan Hadri Zulkifli said hoteliers could just ignore the letter because the council had no jurisdiction over them. "They cannot raid to seize any non-Muslim religious material like the Bible," he told The Malaysian Insider.
It was reported that the state religious body had sent a letter to 147 hotels across the state since March 6, warning that those who defied the directive could be subjected to legal action. If convicted, those involved could be fine up to RM5,000 or jailed for up to two years, or both.
Razlan said the council could be hauled to court if its officers conducted raids to seize non-Muslim religious books and literature. "The council as a public authority can be subjected to a judicial review and the court can make a declaration that its action was illegal," he said.
The anti-Christian attacks, which included the seizure of 300 Bibles last January, stems from the controversial judgment of an appeal court last October, banning the Malaysian Catholic weekly Herald to use the word "Allah". Following the ruling, some officials of the Ministry of Interior have blocked two thousand copies of the magazine of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur at the airport in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah state. The seizure was "justified" by the need to verify whether the publication was "compliant" to the order issued by magistrates and "whether there was an unlawful use of the word Allah".
In Malaysia, a nation of more than 28 million people, mostly Muslims (60 per cent), Christians are the third largest religious group (after Buddhists) with more than 2.6 million members. A Latin-Malay dictionary published 400 years ago shows that the word Allah was already in use to describe the Biblical God in the local language.