Appellate court allows Kedah, Selangor, FT Islamic councils to hold watching brief in 'Allah' case

Palace of Justice in Putrajaya. (Photo by Shahrill Basri/The Edge)

Palace of Justice in Putrajaya. (Photo by Shahrill Basri/The Edge)

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PUTRAJAYA (Jan 19): The Court of Appeal has allowed an application by the Islamic religious councils of Kedah, Selangor and the Federal Territories to hold a watching brief in the appeal by the government against a 2021 High Court decision to annul the ban on the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.

The three-judge bench led by Datuk Yaacob Md Sam made the decision after the appellant and respondent agreed to the application, in which the councils also sought to appear as amicus curiae

An amicus curiae is not a party to the case, but is permitted to assist a court by offering information, expertise, or insight that has a bearing on the issues in the case. 

Lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla represented the councils.

However, the bench — which also included Datuk Nazlan Mohd Ghazali and Datuk S Nantha Balan — said that the councils have to make an application with the coram of appellate court judges that will hear the appeal proper if they should want to address the court in the appeals process. 

In 2021, senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan filed the notice on behalf of the Malaysian government and Home Ministry. Shamsul is deputy head II at the civil division of the Attorney General’s Chambers.

It was reported that Malay-speaking Christians in Malaysia, especially those living in Sabah and Sarawak, have been using the word Allah — the Arabic term for God — for generations.

In the 2021 decision, the court had ruled that the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims is allowed.

The court also ruled that the words Baitullah, Kaabah, and solat, which non-Muslims are banned from using as per a Cabinet decision in 1986, could also be used by the Christian community for teaching purposes, as they have been in use in Sabah and Sarawak and some parts of Peninsular Malaysia for more than 400 years.

Court of Appeal judge Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin, sitting as the High Court judge, allowed a judicial review filed by Jill Ireland, a Melanau clerk from Sarawak, in August 2008, after the seizure of eight compact discs containing the word 'Allah' by the Home Ministry at the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang.

Although the CDs were eventually returned, she went ahead with the judicial challenge that included a challenge of a circular issued by the Home Ministry over a total ban of the use of the four words — Allah, Baitullah, solat and Kaabah — unless there was a written word Christian published in front.

In her decision, Nor Bee ruled that the circular issued following the 1986 Cabinet directive, is null and void.

She said the circular, which was signed by a Home Ministry officer and not a minister, provided a blanket ban over the use of the four words, which was not the directive's intention.

"The directive on the prohibition that it would result in a threat in public order is not supported. In fact, the directive is deemed irrational and perverse," she said.

Surin Murugiah