Hornbill Unleashed

October 15, 2013

Court says ‘No’ to use of ‘Allah’ in Catholic weekly

NONE

Hafiz Yatim

It’s confirmed – Catholic weekly The Herald cannot use the word ‘Allah’ in the publication to refer to ‘God’.

The Court of Appeal in Putrajaya today unanimously over-ruled the landmark decision by the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

In an immediate response, The Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew (left in photo ) expressed disappointment, but said there are plans to lodge an appeal with the Federal Court.

On Dec 31, 2009, KL High Court judge Justice Lau Bee Lan had ruled that the Home Ministry’s ban on the use of the word was unlawful and unconstitutional as it violated Article 11 of the federal constitution.

On Sept 10 this year, the Home Ministry and government had submitted the grounds of their appeal against the decision.

Recently-elevated Federal Court judge Justice Mohamed Apandi Ali, sitting with Justices Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahim and Mohd Zawawi Salleh from the Court of Appeal, allowed the appeal.

NONEMembers of the Muslim community chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) outside the courtroom after the ruling was delivered.

Justice Mohamed Apandi said the KL High Court was wrong in disturbing the home minister’s decision and that there has been no infringement of the right of Catholics to use the word ‘Allah’ in The Herald.

“It is our common finding that use of the name ‘Allah’ is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity,” he said, reading out a summary judgment.

“From such finding, we find no reason why the respondent (Archbishop Titular Catholic Church) is so adamant on using the name ‘Allah’ in the weekly publication. Such use if allowed will inevitably cause confusion within the community.”

Justice Apandi went on to cite Latin terms to mean that the safety of the public and of the state is the supreme law, and co-exists with the doctrine that the welfare of an individual or group must yield to that of the community.

“It is also our reading this is how the element of ‘in peace and harmony’ in Article 3(1) of the federal constitution is to be read with freedom of religion in Article 11(1) of the constitution,” he said.

He also said the court is satisfied that the home minister had acted correctly in discharging his statutory duty under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

azlan“There is sufficient evidence to show that the subjective decision was derived by considering all facts and circumstances in an objective manner. Thus there is no plausible reason for the High Court to interfere with the minister’s decision,” he said.

“All orders pursuant to judicial review are set aside, and there is no order as to costs.”

Lawyers for the church, Porres Royan and S Selvarajah, indicated they would file an appeal within 30 days.

Porres said it is unfortunate that the issue has been politicised when in many parts of the world, other religious communities are using ‘Allah’.

“I have to study all three written judgments on whether the decision today is binding on all Christians, as what was read in court was just a summary of the decision,” he said.

Likely confusion

The ruling is likely to cause confusion and apprehension among Christians as well.

In Sabah and Sarawak, there are an estimated 1.6 million Christians, some of whom have used ‘Allah’ for generations.

Lawrence sees the decision as being binding only on The Herald as this is a judicial review application.

“We are disappointed and dismayed over the decision following the government’s 10-point solution, in not allowing the use to be extended from the Indonesian/Bahasa Malaysia Bible to other Christian publications,” he said.

In April 2011, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, in endorsing the government’s 10-point solution, had allowed the publication and importation of the Bible in Bahasa Indonesia/Bahasa Malaysia for use by the Christian community. This was just before the Sarawak state election.

“… From our experience, the minister’s assertion it would result in public disorder is wrong as the word had been used for centuries here and the Middle East,” said Lawrence.

“The Herald has been using it since 1994. It has been used among the Bahasa Malaysia-speaking people of Sabah and Sarawak for generations.

“We still feel there is a lack of appreciation of our constitutional right as we can use ‘Allah’ in the Bible and not The Herald and we use it for our worship as well. This is interfering in our sacred service which we say is a gross injustice done to the Christian community.”

He said this is a step backwards in the development of the law, especially the fundamental liberties of the religious minorities.

Council of Churches Malaysia general secretary Hermen Shastri picked up on Justice Apandi’s statement that “Allah is not an integral part of the Christian faith and practice”.

NONE“The decision today is as if the court has written off the Christian community in the Middle East who have been using ‘Allah’. He (the judge) has no competence to make a judgment on that,” said Hermen(right).

Although the court has decided that the home minister was right in imposing the ban on the basis of security, he asked about the rights of minority groups.

“Just because of the majority, the minority have to fall into place, is it? This is the same government that has brought about the 10-point solution. These have not been withdrawn, so how can the judge say this?

“This is causing confusion to the minority religious community. They have not banned the use of the word ‘Allah’ in the Bible as these are imported. What is it saying now?”

PAS, Hermen noted, has said – like many Muslims around the world – that ‘Allah’ is used by Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Middle East.

“We should not fight over the name ‘Allah’. It is a sad day,” he said, adding that Christians would continue to pray with the version of the Bible they now have.

Hermen also hoped for political will on the government’s part to resolve the matter, as Christians in Sabah and Sarawak may ask what kind of signal has been given in the wake of the 10-point solution.

The Herald is published in Mandarin, Tamil, English and Bahasa Malaysia.

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