Four reasons for controversial ‘Allah’ ruling

(The Malaysian Insider) KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 —  High Court judge Datuk Lau Bee Lan’s controversial ‘Allah’ ruling that rocked the nation over who had rights to the term cited that the Home Minister and government’s actions had been illegal, unconstitutional, irrational and had failed to satisfy that it was a threat to national security.

She also wrote about the apparent conflict in the matter between the Federal Constitution and the various state enactments apart from claims by Muslim groups that the matter cannot be taken to a civil court.

The judge released the written grounds of her Dec 31 judgment late on Friday while the increasingly acrimonious public debate over who has the right to use the word “Allah” continues to rage on.

The Malaysian Insider obtained a copy of her 57-page judgment where the judge lays out the reasons and the laws behind her oral pronouncement.

In laying out her judgment, Justice Lau ruled that the Home Minister and the Government of Malaysia, who were named as 1st and 2nd Respondents respectively, has the discretion under Section 12 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act to issue or revoke a permit to the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Reverend Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam (the Applicant) to publish the Church’s newspaper, Herald — The Catholic Weekly.

But, she stressed, the respondents had made decisions that were illegal, unconstitutional and irrational when they barred the Catholic newspaper from publishing the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section.

Below are excerpts highlighting the main disputes.

* On why the Home Minister’s ban is illegal

“The Applicant submits the 1st Respondent has failed to take into account one or more of the relevant considerations…

1. The word “Allah” is the correct Bahasa Malaysia word for “God” and in the Bahasa Malaysia translation of the Bible, “God” is translated as “Allah” and “Lord” is translated as “Tuhan”;

2. For 15 centuries, Christians and Muslims in Arabic-speaking countries have been using the word “Allah” in reference to the One God. The Catholic Church in Malaysia and Indonesia and the greater majority of other Christian denominations hold that “Allah” is the legitimate word for “God” in Bahasa Malaysia;

3. The Malay language has been the lingua franca of many Catholic believers for several centuries especially those living in Melaka and Penang and their descendants in Peninsular Malaysia have practised a culture of speaking and praying in the Malay language;

4. The word “God” has been translated as “Allah” in the “Istilah Agama Kristian Bahasa Inggeris ke Bahasa Malaysia” first published by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia in 1989;

5. The Malay-Latin dictionary published in 1631 had translated “Deus” (the Latin word for God) as “Alla” as the Malay translation;

6. The Christian usage of the word “Allah” predates Islam being the name of God in the old Arabic Bible as well as in the modern Arabic Bible used by Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and other places in Asia, Africa, etc;

7. In Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, the word “Allah” has been used continuously in the printed edition of the Matthew’s Gospel in Malaysia in 1629, in the first complete Malay Bible in 1733 and in the second complete Malay Bible in 1879 until today in the Perjanjian Baru and the Alkitab;

8. Munshi Abdullah who is considered the father of modern Malay literature had translated the Gospels into Malay in 1852 and he translated the word “God” as “Allah”;

9. There was already a Bible translated into Bahasa Melayu in existence before 1957 which translation was carried out by the British and Foreign Bible Society where the word “Allah” was used;

10. There was also already in existence a Prayer Book published in Singapore on 3.1.1905 where the word “Allah” was used;

11. There was also a publication entitled “An Abridgment of the Christian Doctrine” published in 1895 where the word “Allah” was used.

12. Anther publication entitled “Hikajat Elkaniset” published in 1874 also contains the word “Allah”

13. The Bahasa Indonesia and the Bahasa Malaysia translations of the Holy Bible, which is the Holy Scriptures of Christians, have been used by the Christian natives of Peninsular Malaysia; Sabah and Sarawak for generations;

14. The Bahasa Malaysia speaking Christian natives of Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah had always and have continuously the word “Allah” for generations and the word “Allah” is used in the Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesian translations of the Bible used throught Malaysia;

15. At least for the last three decades the Bahasa Malaysia congregation of the Catholic Church have been freely using the Alkitab, the Bahasa Indonesia translation of the Holy Bible wherein the word “Allah appears;

16. The said publication is a Catholic weekly as stated on the cover of the weekly and is intended for the dissemination of news and information on the Catholic Church in Malaysia and elsewhere and is not for sale or distribution outside the Church;

17. The said publication is not made available to members of the public and in particular to persons professing the religion of Islam;

18. The said publication contains nothing which is likely to cause public alarm and/or which touches on the sensitivities of the religion of Islam and in the fourteen years of the said publication there has never been any untoward incident arising from the Applicant’s use of the word “Allah” in the said publication;

19. In any event the word “Allah” has been used by Christians in all countries where the Arabic language is used as well as in Indonesian/Malay language without any problems and/or breach of public order/ and/or sensitivity to persons professing the religion of Islam in these countries;

20. Islam and the control and restriction of religious doctrine or belief among Muslims professing the religion of Islam is a state matter and the Federal Government has no jurisdiction over such matters of Islam save in the federal territories

21. The subsequent exemption vide P.U.(A) 134/82 which permits the Alkitab to be used by Christians in churches ipso facto permits the use of the word “Allah” in the said publication;

22. The Bahasa Malaysia speaking congregation of the Catholic Church uses the word “Allah” for worship and instruction and that the same is permitted in the Al-Kitab.

“The Applicant further submits that none of the above-mentioned factual considerations were ever disputed or challenged by the 1st Respondent as factually incorrect. I am incline to agree with the Applicant as the response of the 1st Respondent to the factual averments is a feeble denial in paragraph 41 of the Affidavit of the 1st Respondent which reads “Keseluruhan pernyataan-pernyataan di perenggan-perenggan 50, 51 and 52(i)-(xxii) Affidavit Sokongan Pemohon adalah dinafikan…” (Emphasis added)

“Therefore I find the 1st Respondent in the exercise of his discretion to impose further conditions in the publication permit has not taken into account the relevant matters alluded to above, hence committing an error of law warranting this Court to interfere and I am of the view that the decision of the Respondents dated 7.1.2009 ought to be quashed,” she ruled.

* On why the Home Minister’s ban is unconstitutional

Justice Lau also said the applicant’s grounds for the reliefs of certiorari and declaratio is premised on the unconstitutional acts and conduct being inconsistent with Articles 3(1), 10, 11 and 12 of the Federal Constitution…”

“Applying the principles enunciated in Meor Atiqulrahman Ishak (supra) to the instant case, there is no doubt that Christianity is a religion. The next question is whether the use of the word “Allah” is a practice of the religion of Christianity. In my view there is uncontroverted historical evidence allueded to in paragraph 52 (i) to (xxii) alluded to above which is indicative that use of the word “Allah” is a practice of the religion of Christianity. From the evidence, it is apparent the use of the word “Allah” is an essential part of the worship and instruction in the faith of the Malay (Bahasa Malaysia) speaking community of the Catholic Church in Malaysia and is integral to the practice and propagation of their faith.

“The next consideration is the circumstances under which the “prohibition” was made. The circumstances to my mind would be the factors which the Respondents rely on to justify the impugned decision which have been alluded to in paragraph 9(i) to (ix) above.

“As to the ground in paragraph 9(i) in my judgment, this is unmeritorious for the reason which has been dealt under the issue of whether the use of the word “Allah” endangers public order and national security. As to the ground in paragraph 9(ii), (iii), (v) and (ix), I have shown unchallenged evidence that there is a well established practice for the use of the “Allah” amongst the Malay speaking community of the Catholic faith in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak and the origin of the word and its translation…

“Considering all the factors, in my judgment, the imposition of the condition in the publication permit prohibiting the use of the word “Allah” in the said publication, “Herald – the Catholic Weekly” pursuant to the 1st Respondent’s exercise of powers under the Act contravenes the provisions of Articles 3(1), 11(1) and 11(3) of the Federal Constitution and therefore is unconstitutional,” she added.

* On why the Home Minister’s ban is irrational

Read more at: Four reasons for controversial ‘Allah’ ruling