Hornbill Unleashed

November 14, 2013

SHOWDOWN ‘ALLAH’: Church files appeal but will its bid be blocked by Najib, Muslim ultras?

SHOWDOWN 'ALLAH': Church files appeal but will its bid be blocked by Najib, Muslim ultras?Maria Begum

The Catholic Church has applied for leave to appeal to Federal Court to overturn a controversial ruling that deemed the word Allah was exclusive to Muslims; and hence barring its weekly publication, the Herald, as well as other non-Muslims from using the word to refer to God.

The confusing and contentious ruling laid down last month by a 3-member all Malay-Muslim Court of Appeal panel has stirred unprecedented criticism and ridicule for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Umno-BN government, from both domestic and international sources.

Slammed all round

Not only are Christians angered at the ruling, with many in Malaysia suspicious that Najib was out to divide-and-rule their 2.7-million strong community, Muslims from the Middle East have minced no words calling the Malaysian decision “stupid” and “illogical”.

Among the renowned Muslims abroad who have slammed the Malaysian ruling are Yusuf Qaradawi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood and scholar Tariq Ramadan. They point out that even in the Middle East, the word Allah is commonly used by Christians there and this has been so for ages.

“Malaysian justice is up for the world to see. If permission is not given to the Catholic Church to appeal, let’s say on the grounds of national security, it would have very grave and long-term consequences for Malaysia. Investors, in particular the long-term ones, will have to re-assess whether Malaysia is a dictatorship supportive of Muslim extremism or whether it follows the rule of law,” Opposition MP for Batu Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.

“So I would think the government should not interfere behind the scenes or be seen trying to influence the courts. But at the moment, Najib is swaying with the wind. He is trying to gauge whether it would be politically more beneficial to allow or disallow the appeal. This is the situation in Malaysia, no mission or vision, just day-to-day fire-fighting.’

The decision of the Federal Court to grant or reject permission for the Church to appeal is expected to be known in a few weeks’ time.


There are already many cynics especially among the Christians and also within the legal fraternity, who are shocked at the ruling handed down by the Appeals court which many experts have opined directly contradicted and challenged the provisions outlined in the Federal Constitution.

Firstly, not all expect permission for the appeal to the apex court to be granted. And secondly, even if it was, given Najib’s fiery rhetoric of late that he would defend Allah’s exclusivity for Muslims, few expect the Federal Court to overturn the appellate court’s “flawed” ruling.

“I guess this sort of speculation reflects the state of confidence in the Malaysian judiciary. It is really sad. Even in the composition of the Federal Court panel, will it be fair? The lawyers advising the Church want a 7-member or at least 5-member panel of mixed races and religious background, but can this be fulfilled?” a lawyer close to the case told Malaysia Chronicle.

26 questions to be raised in appeal to apex court

Earlier on Tuesday, Benjamin Dawson, one of the counsels representing the Church, told the press they had filed the application at the Federal Court registry yesterday.

“The church has raised 26 questions of law in the leave application to appeal to the Federal Court,” Dawson told national news agency Bernama.

He said the legal questions involved three areas namely constitutional questions, administrative issues and whether the court can decide on comparative religious issues.

Dawson elaborated that the salient questions included whether Islam, being the religion of the federation, would impinge on the fundamental liberties in Part II of the Federal Constitution, in particular on the right to profess and practice the religion of those in the religious minority group.

Can the state interfere?

Dawson said the other important constitutional questions were whether the state could interfere with the rights of a religious group to manage its own affairs.

Another question, he said was whether the alleged confusion by a certain religious group was sufficient ground to restrict the right to freedom of another religious group.

He said the question on administrative law would center on the Home Minister’s power namely whether the decision of the Home Minister on grounds of ‘threat to national security and public order’ could be reviewed by the court.

The other question, he said, was whether the court of appeal could use an Internet search and based on such information gathered, come to certain conclusions on comparative religious issues.

Dawson is optimistic and expects a case management date would be fixed before a hearing date for the appeal application.

High Court to Appeals Court to Federal Court?

On Oct 14, the appellate court led by judge Mohamed Apandi Ali had unanimously overturned a December 2009 High Court ruling that had uplifted the government’s ban on the Herald from using the word “Allah”.

In response to that, on Feb 16, 2010, the Roman Catholic church led by Archbishop Murphy Pakiam filed a judicial review application naming the Home Ministry and the government as respondents, seeking, among others, a declaration that the Home 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, especially to cater for the people in Sabah and Sarawak.

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.



  1. Who will judge the stupid judges?

    Comment by Special Branch — November 14, 2013 @ 1:36 PM | Reply


    Comment by Geronimo Miller — November 14, 2013 @ 3:19 AM | Reply

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