Court defers ruling on Sabah, Sarawak Christians using ‘Allah’ in religious material

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

PUTRAJAYA: The High Court has deferred its ruling for the sixth time on whether Christians in Sabah and Sarawak can use the word “Allah” in religious publications meant to educate members in their community.

Senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan said judge Nor Bee Ariffin allowed more time to find an administrative solution to the issue following a request by disputing parties.

“The matter need not proceed further if an administrative solution is found by both parties,” Shamsul told FMT after meeting Nor Bee in her chambers together with lawyer Lim Heng Seng who represented Sarawakian Jill Ireland.

Nor Bee, who is now a Court of Appeal judge here, has fixed Oct 4 for parties to update her on the issue.

In 2008, customs at the former low-cost carrier terminal in Sepang seized eight CDs from Ireland titled “Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah”, “Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah” and “Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah”.

Ireland, a Melanau Christian, filed for a judicial review to reclaim the CDs, seeking several declaratory reliefs as well.

FMT understands non-Muslim ministers, deputy ministers and MPs from the Borneo states were in negotiation with Putrajaya to allow Christians to use the word “Allah” in their religious education.

Nor Bee first reserved judgment last year, after hearing submissions from Lim and Shamsul in late 2017.

The High Court initially fixed March 22 for the decision, but deferred it several times, the last being Nov 14, 2018.

In 2014, the High Court ordered the home ministry to return the CDs to Ireland but declined to issue the declaration 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 restricting or banning the import of educational material.

A Sabah church is also pursuing the right to use the word “Allah” in religious education, and has written to the PH government to make an administrative ruling on the matter.

Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB), which has a pending legal challenge, wrote to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa on the issue but the outcome is unclear.

The Court of Appeal has also vacated a scheduled hearing of SIB’s appeal on an interlocutory matter.

SIB filed the appeal in 2017 as part of attempts to reverse a High Court ruling in which Nor Bee dismissed its discovery application for documents used by the home ministry to support its ban on the church’s right to use the word “Allah”.

Nor Bee ruled that there was no necessity for such an order in a judicial review application.