10 March 2021
The High Court today ruled that non-Muslims can use the word Allah and three other words for teaching purposes.
The other words are kaabah, solat, and baitullah.
The ruling was made by Court of Appeal judge Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin, sitting as a High Court judge, after 13 years of legal battle between the government and Jill Ireland, a Christian woman from Sarawak.
Nor Bee described the Home Ministry’s directive to prohibit the use of the four words by non-Muslims 35 years ago was “illegal” and “irrational”.
“The use of the words would not disrupt public order. There is no dispute that the materials were for her (Ireland) personal religious education,” she said.
She said the government directive was issued beyond the aim of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA).
“PPPA cannot be used as a general law to check on public order, public health and morality. Ireland has the (constitutional) right to use and import any publications for her religious education.
“Her right has been guaranteed under Article 8 of the Federal Constitution where she can practice her faith without discrimination.
“However, the word Allah can only be used by the church provided any publication was only for Christians,” she said.
Nor Bee said Christians in Sabah and Sarawak had used the word Allah in their church for about 400 years.
“Ireland also had provided three affidavits from three Muslims stating that they were not confused by Christians using the word Allah in their religious education.
“The home minister also failed to provide any affidavit to support their claims that the use of ‘Allah’ by Christians for religious purposes would jeopardise national security,” she added.
Counsel Annou Xavier, when met after the proceedings, said the government directive dated Dec 5, 1996 which prevented non-Muslims from using the word Allah was now deemed unlawful and unconstitutional.
“From interpretation of today’s judgement, I am saying that non-Muslims can use the words – Allah, kaabah, solat, and baitullah in all of their publications,” he said.
Meanwhile, Senior Federal Counsel Shamsul Bolhassan when contacted confirmed the four words can be used by Christians.
“However, publications that contain the four words must carry a disclaimer that it is intended for Christians only as well as a cross symbol,” he said.
Ireland, a Melanau clerk from Sarawak, filed the judicial review in August 2008 against the home minister and the government after the seizure of eight compact discs (CDs) containing the word ‘Allah’ by the Home Ministry near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
The CDs bore the titles “Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah”, “Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah” and “Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah”.
On July 21, 2014, the High Court ordered that the CDs be returned to Ireland, but it did not make an order on the declaration applied for by the woman that she had the right to keep, use and import published materials containing the word ‘Allah’.
On June 23, 2015, the Court of Appeal endorsed the High Court’s decision which ordered the Home Ministry to return the seized CDs to her after dismissing the appeal by the ministry and Malaysian government against the High Court’s decision.