[NEWS] Azmin: I would have handled the ‘Allah’ issue differently

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 — Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim could have used “better judgment” and done more to address the “Allah” issue in his capacity as Selangor Mentri Besar, Azmin Ali has said, fueling talk of a deepening rivalry between the two state leaders.

But Azmin, who has already dismissed the notion of tension with Khalid, reasoned that a more proactive approach by the state government could have “contained” the “Allah” controversy without worsening religious strife in the country’s wealthiest state.

When met recently, the PKR deputy president expressed disappointment with how Khalid, now in his second term as mentri besar, had taken his time and showed a more hands-off approach when the debacle over the seizure of bibles by state authorities crossed his table.

“I would have handled the ‘Allah’ issue differently if I was in his shoes. I would made sure all parties were consulted before making a decision on the matter,” Azmin told The Malay Mail Online in an interview here.

Khalid has come under heavy fire for only breaking his silence five days after the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) raided the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) to enforce an “Allah” ban.

The religious authorities, acting on the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988, had raided BSM’s Petaling Jaya office on January 3 and carted off 300 Malay and Iban language bibles containing the word “Allah”.

The state enactment bans non-Muslims from using 35 Arabic words and phrases in their faith, including the word for God “Allah”, which has been at the centre of a major religious firestorm between Muslims and Christians here.

After the raid, church leaders and opposition lawmakers were quick to condemn Jais. Three DAP assemblymen in the Selangor assembly even voiced their protest against the state law and called for amendments to be made.

The trio were later admonished by the Pakatan Rakyat leadership, however, for jumping the gun in calling for the amendments.

Lawyers later suggested that all state enactments be streamlined in accordance with the Federal Constitution.

Khalid, however, only responded to the matter during a press conference on January 8 where he ordered a conditional release of the bibles and a change in Jais’s raid procedures.

“I would have adopted a more consultative approach if I was Tan Sri Khalid,” Azmin said.

As an example, the PKR leader said he would have called up the three DAP assemblymen for a private discussion of their concerns.

“After that, I would have called for an open discussion between interested parties, members from Pakatan, assemblymen, Jais as well as Muslim and Christian religious scholars,” he added, saying that only then would he have come to a decision.

Azmin said the issue would not have been blown out of proportion if the Selangor government had acted quickly and immediately consulted their colleagues in PR, which he noted that Khalid had not done.

“We have the means. Has the state ever conducted meetings between religious scholars in order to create a better understanding? Or are issues like this meant for Pakatan Rakyat to address?

“You talk about reforms, openness. We have to see the bigger picture, we have to engage public discourse and dialogue,” said the Bukit Antarabangsa state assemblyman.

Khalid has said that the responsibility on deciding whether Selangor should revise the 1998 enactment lies with the PR leadership, and that he had been warned against making a decision on the matter himself.

“There is a potential fallout on this issue, we need to deal with this and explain to our constituents that we are neither anti-Islam, anti-Malay or anti-Christian,” Azmin stressed.

Azmin was just recently axed from the board of the Selangor State Development Corporation, a move that has cast a spotlight on the worsening rift between the state leader and the Selangor mentri besar.

Khalid has denied that the removal was ordered by himself or the state executive council, putting the blame instead on top officials in the state-owned firm.