The three-member Court of Appeal panel unanimously dismissed the Catholic Church's application to strike out the government's appeal.
PUTRAJAYA: The controversies over the usage of the word ‘Allah’, in the Catholic weekly publication, The Herald, was a “live issue” which needed to be resolved, ruled the Court of Appeal here yesterday.
A three-member panel led by Abu Samah Nordin ordered the government’s appeal against a High Court ruling to allow The Herald to use the word “Allah”, to proceed on Sept 10.
The panel, comprising justices Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahim and Rohana Yusuf, unanimously dismissed the Catholic Church’s application to strike out the government’s appeal.
Abu Samah said former Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had made an affidavit and explained that the usage of the word, ‘Allah’, was not part of the 10-point solution.
“Hence, it does not apply to this case. The subject matter (the appeal) is not rendered academic as there are still live issues and controversies to be resolved,” he said.
Abu Samah also held that it was a drastic action to strike out an appeal that had been properly filed before this court, and deny the government a right to appeal.
By consent of parties – the church, Home Ministry, the government and the Islamic Religious Councils – the court did not make any order on costs.
The church filed the application to strike out the government’s appeal on July 8, this year.
On Feb 16, 2010, the church filed a judicial review application, naming the Home Ministry and the government as respondents, seeking among others, a declaration that the ministry’s decision to prohibit the use of the word, ‘Allah’, in The Herald publication was illegal.
The weekly, published in four languages, has been using the word, ‘Allah’ to refer to ‘God’, in the Herald Malay-language section, specially to cater for the people in Sabah and Sarawak.
However, the government argued that the word, ‘Allah’, should be used exclusively only by Muslims.
On Dec 31, 2009, the High Court declared the decision by the Home Ministry prohibiting The Herald from using the word, ‘Allah’, was illegal, null and void.
The government filed an appeal to the Court of Appeal.
‘Govt has changed position’
Earlier, Porres Royan, who appeared for the church, submitted that the government’s appeal should be struck out because there was no controversy or dispute on the use of the word, ‘Allah’, in the Catholic publication.
He said this was because the 10-point solution signed by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and addressed to the Christian Federation of Malaysia chairman Ng Moon Hing had allowed Christians to use the word in their Bibles in the language of Bahasa Indonesia/Bahasa Malaysia and indigenous language of Iban, Kadazan-Dusun and Lun Bawang.
“We say the government has changed its position in respect to the use of the word,” he said, adding that it was a collective decision by the Cabinet and that the 10-point solution had addressed on the use of the word, ‘Allah’.
“The effect of it is that the word (Allah) can now be used in the Bahasa Indonesia/Bahasa Malaysia and other indigenous Bibles and these Bibles can be imported and printed,” he said.
“If the Cabinet has given its approval to allow the use of the word in the Bible, it must follow that the word can be used in the publication,” he said.
Senior Federal Counsel Suzana Atan, representing the Home Ministry and the government, however argued that their appeal should not be struck out as there were “live issues” to be considered.
“The (striking out) application filed by the applicant (the church) is frivolous and ought to be dismissed,” she said.
She said the issue before the High Court was related to the Home Minister’s discretion under the Printing, Presses and Publication Act concerning the printing permit of The Herald, while the 10-point solution dealt with Bible issues.
Lawyer Mubashir Mansor, representing the Terengganu Islamic Religious Council, submitted that the judicial review at the High Court confined to the administrative decision of the Home ministry dated Jan 7, 2009.
Therefore, he said the 10-point solution could not be taken into consideration because the solution came after the High Court handed down its decision on the church’s judicial review application.
Mubashir said: “The April 11, 2011 letter of the prime minister did not touch on the subject matter of the appeal. He did not say that The Herald could use the word, ‘Allah’.”
No Cabinet decision on “Allah” term
Lawyer Hanif Khatri Abdulla, representing the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (MCMA), contended that the Cabinet’s direction was specifically to the import and export of the physical Bibles but did not touch on the contents of the Bible.
He said Hishammuddin, in his affidavit, had given the explanation as to why the 10-point solution was issued, what was considered and what was not.
Hishammuddin had said in his affidavit in reply to an application by the Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur to set aside the government’s appeal, that the Cabinet, in deciding on the 10-point solution, did not make a decision on the use of the word, ‘Allah’.
He (Hishammuddin) said the Cabinet decision on April 11, 2011 was only to find ways to overcome problems relating to the import, printing, distribution and the use of the Bahasa Malaysia Bible in the country.
More than 300 people had gathered at the grounds of the Palace of Justice, here to follow the developments of the court case.
They included members of non-governmental organisations like Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa Malaysia (Perkasa), Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma, Jalur Tiga Malaysia (Jati) and the Malaysia Chinese Muslim Association.
Some among the crowd were seen sitting on the ground cross-legged, saying the “selawat”, reading the Quran, singing nasyid or holding banners.
One of them said he was there to express support over the Islamic religious issue.
The group remained outside the court building as the courtroom was already packed by 8am.
The people seen in court included Jati president Hasan Ali, Perkasa president Ibrahim Ali, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Razali Ibrahim and Catholic priests.
After the court decision was made, cries of the takbir were heard outside the courtroom but the court policemen advised the crowd to disperse.