Malaysian government drops appeal on non-Muslim use of word ‘Allah’

Putrajaya, Malaysia: Perdana Putra, office of the Prime Minister. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas.
Putrajaya, Malaysia: Perdana Putra, office of the Prime Minister. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas.

The government has decided to withdraw its appeal concerning the High Court’s ruling, which permits non-Muslims to utilize the word “Allah” and three other terms for educational purposes. The three additional words in question are kaabah, solat, and baitullah.

The termination notice was filed on April 18 by the senior federal counsel representing the Home Ministry and the government. This action was confirmed by Senior Federal Counsel Shamsul Bolhassan, the New Straits Times reported

After a lengthy legal battle lasting 13 years between the government and Jill Ireland, a Christian woman from Sarawak, the Court of Appeal judge Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin, who presided as a High Court judge on March 21, 2021, delivered the ruling. 

Nor Bee characterized the Home Ministry’s directive from 35 years ago that prohibited non-Muslims from using the four words as “illegal” and “irrational.” She argued that the government directive surpassed the scope of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA).

According to Nor Bee, the PPPA cannot serve as a general law to regulate matters of public order, public health, and morality. 

She stressed that Ireland’s constitutional right to use and import any publication for her religious education is protected under Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, allowing her to practice her faith without discrimination. 

Nevertheless, Nor Bee stated that the word “Allah” can only be used by the church if any publication is exclusively intended for Christians. She further noted that Christians in Sabah and Sarawak have been using the word “Allah” in their churches for approximately 400 years.

Ireland, a Melanau clerk from Sarawak, initiated the judicial review in August 2008 against the home minister and the government following the confiscation of eight compact discs (CDs) containing the word “Allah” by the Home Ministry near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The CDs were titled “Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah” (Living Life in the Kingdom of God), “Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah” (Living Righteously in the Kingdom of God), and “Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah” (True Worship in the Kingdom of God).

On Jul. 21, 2014, the High Court ordered the return of the CDs to Ireland. However, it did not address her request for a declaration confirming her right to possess, use, and import published materials containing the word “Allah.”

On Jun. 23, 2015, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision, which required the Home Ministry to return the confiscated CDs to Ireland. The appeal lodged by the ministry and the Malaysian government against the High Court’s decision was dismissed.

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