KUALA LUMPUR: In a landmark ruling, Malaysia’s high court said on Wednesday (Mar 10) that Christians are allowed to use the word “Allah” in religious publications for educational purposes.
Three other words: Baitullah (the Arabic word for God’s house), Kaabah (the building at the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, which is the direction of prayer for Muslims around the world) and solat (pray) can also be used in religious publications, according to Bernama.
In delivering her judgement, Court of Appeal Judge Nor Bee Ariffin said that a 1986 directive by the home ministry to ban the use of the four words by Christians was an "illegality" and "irrationality".
"It is no dispute it (the material) was for her personal religious edification," the judge was quoted as saying by the Star, referring to an incident in 2008 when customs officers at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport seized eight CDs from Ms Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, a Malaysian Christian from Sarawak.
The CDs were entitled “Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah (Way Of Life In The Kingdom Of God)”, “Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah (Living Righteously In The Kingdom Of God)” and “Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah (True Worship In The Kingdom of God)”.
The judge also noted that Christian communities in Sabah and Sarawak have been using “Allah” for generations in the practice of their faith.
“The fact that they have been using it for 400 years cannot be ignored,” she was quoted as saying by the Malaysian Insight.
Following the seizure, Ms Jill Ireland filed for judicial review against the home minister and the Malaysian government. She also sought official recognition of her constitutional rights to practise her religion and non-discrimination under the relevant articles of the country’s Constitution.
The High Court ruled in 2014 that the home ministry was wrong to seize the CDs and ordered them to be returned to Ms Jill Ireland.
In 2015, the Court of Appeal sent the two constitutional issues back to the High Court to be heard. The case was heard by the High Court in 2017 but the announcement of the decision was deferred several times until Wednesday.
This was because the parties were said to be discussing possible resolutions outside the court, as well as delays brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senior Federal Counsel Shamsul Bolhassan, who acted for the home ministry and the government, confirmed to Bernama that the four words - Allah, Baitullah, Kaabah and solat can be used by Christians for their religious publications.
"However, publications that contain the four words must carry a disclaimer that (they are) intended for Christians only as well as a cross symbol," he said.