Court defers ruling on Allah issue for third time

The question of whether Christians can use the word ‘Allah’ has stirred considerable debate in the country. (Bernama pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court here deferred its ruling for the third time today on whether Christians can use the word “Allah” in publications for the purpose of religious education within their own community.

Lawyer Lim Heng Seng, appearing for Sarawakian Jill Ireland, said the parties were seeking a resolution to the dispute.

However, he declined to elaborate on the matter.

“Today’s date for a decision has been converted to a case management,” he told FMT.

Lim said judge Nor Bee Ariffin had fixed Oct 29 to deliver her judgment.

The High Court initially fixed March 22 for the decision but then deferred it to today.

Nor Bee first reserved judgment last November after hearing submissions from Ireland’s lead counsel, Lim, and government lawyer Shamsul Bolhassan.

Shamsul said the parties were looking forward to an “administrative” decision, which was why today’s scheduled court ruling had been shelved.

FMT understands that parties are attempting to get an assurance from the Pakatan Harapan government that certain constitutional rights of Christians from Sabah and Sarawak will be upheld.

Ten years ago, customs officials seized eight CDs, titled “Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah”, “Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah” and “Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah”, upon Ireland’s arrival at the then Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang.

The Melanau Christian subsequently filed for a judicial review to reclaim the CDs and seek several declaratory reliefs.

In 2014, the High Court ordered the home ministry to return the CDs to Ireland, but declined to issue the declarations as it was bound by a Federal Court ruling.

The following year, the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling but ordered the High Court to hear Ireland’s application for the reliefs sought.

She is now seeking a declaration that her constitutional right to practise her religion was violated by the imposition of a restriction or ban on the import of educational materials.

At the last hearing, Shamsul said Putrajaya’s decision to restrict or ban non-Muslim religious educational materials that contained the word “Allah” was permissible under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984.

He said the home minister had been given discretionary power under Section 9 (1) of the PPPA on grounds of public order and national security.

Shamsul added that a 1986 government directive prohibited the use of the terms “Allah, “kaabah”, “solat” and “Baitullah” in non-Muslim publications to prevent misunderstanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, especially in the peninsula.

However, Lim said a 10-point solution which came about just before the Sarawak state election in 2011 superseded the 1986 government directive.

The 10-point solution was a Cabinet policy decision to resolve issues pertaining to the importation, printing, distribution and usage of the Bible in Sabah, Sarawak and the peninsula.

That decision, among others, imposed no restrictions on Christians from Sabah and Sarawak to carry Bibles that contained the word “Allah”, provided that they included the words “Christian publication”.

Lim also said Ireland’s constitutional right to freedom of religion under Article 11 could not be curtailed through the PPPA.