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Another case in M'sia tests ban on use of "Allah"

Jill Ireland’s Christian CDs, which contained the word "Allah", were seized in 2008. This case was heard in court on Monday, barely a week after Malaysia's highest court rejected a Catholic weekly's final bid to appeal against the ban on its use of the Arabic word for "God".

KUALA LUMPUR: Barely a week after Malaysia's highest court turned down a Catholic weekly's final bid to appeal against the ban on its use of the word "Allah" – the Arabic word for “God” – another case is testing the limits of that ban.

Jill Ireland’s Christian CDs, which contained the word "Allah", were seized at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 2008 upon her return from Indonesia. The CDs were banned as they were deemed to pose a threat to public order. 

Ireland is a native Melanau Christian from Sarawak. Her case was heard on Monday.

Her lawyers argued that the CDs were for her personal use, and their confiscation violates her religious freedom and now she wants her CDs back.

In defending her case, Ireland's lawyers also used a statement by Prime Minister Najib Razak, issued immediately after last week's Federal Court decision to uphold the ban on the Herald.

Najib's statement said that the court's decision only applied to the Catholic weekly - the Herald - and that Malaysian Christians can continue to use the word "Allah" in church.

Annou Xavier, counsel for Ireland, said: "Federal court majority decision clearly states that it's obiter - obiter merely means that the decision of the court of appeal by the particular judge is just his personal opinion and therefore we feel it is not binding on Jill Ireland or any other cases."

But the government's lawyer argued that the decision to seize the CDs was the sole discretion of the Home Ministry, and was based on questions of public safety.

Senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan said: "It has nothing to do with religious decision, it’s just exercise of discretion by home minister whether it’s legal or not."

Justice Zaleha Yusof is expected to rule on the case on 21 July and the spotlight will be on whether she can provide any clarity to the laws that have caused much confusion, especially in east Malaysia, where the majority of the population are Christians.

Alfred Tais from Sabah Council of Churches said: "We have used that word ‘Allah’ in all aspects of our worship and suddenly they say cannot use. I think they're not confused, we are the ones confused."

The issue is a sensitive topic in multi-religious Malaysia as Muslim activists fear that allowing the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims in predominantly-Muslim west Malaysia would confuse Muslims into leaving their religion. 

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