Malay groups hail latest ‘Allah’ ruling as victory for Muslims

Irwan Fahmi Ideris

(Malay Mail Online) – Muslims should celebrate the High Court’s ruling against the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) church as a validation of “Allah’s” exclusivity to the religion, Malay groups have said.

Earlier today, the High Court struck out Sabah SIB’s 2007 lawsuit against the Home Ministry for confiscating three boxes of Christian publications that contained the word “Allah”.

Right-wing groups Perkasa and Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA) lauded the court’s decision, saying it was a “victory” for Muslims who have argued that the Arabic word ‘Allah’ cannot be used by any other faith in Malaysia.

“This is definitely a victory for us, for Muslims nationwide. We are not talking about who is right or wrong, just that ‘Allah’ has always been for Muslims,” Perkasa youth chief Irwan Fahmi Ideris told The Malay Mail Online when contacted.

The High Court said that it was bound by a Court of Appeal ruling last year saying the Catholic weekly, the Herald, could not use the word “Allah” to refer to God as the word was not an integral part of the Christian faith.

Today’s case demonstrates that the Court of Appeal ruling has set a precedent which will have wide implications.

“This is right, justice has been served, the courts are following what is in the Federal Constitution,” Irwan added.

Christian groups have argued from the outset that their right to use the word is enshrined in the Constitution which guarantees religious freedom.

ISMA president Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman said the High Court had done its job and that both rulings showed that there should not be any more confusion on who could use the word “Allah.”

“The decision today is consistent with the Constitution… the court’s interpretation on the matter is correct and just,” he told The Malay Mail Online when contacted.

The Sabah Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) church filed its lawsuit on December 10, 2007, seeking to quash the Home Ministry’s decision to seize three boxes of Malay-language Christian educational books that contained the word “Allah”.

The books, imported from Indonesia, were seized at the international budget airport terminal in Sepang on August 15, 2007 while in transit.

They were later returned to the Sabah church on January 25, 2008. In an immediate reaction, Sabah SIB president Rev Datuk Jerry Dusing said the church will instruct its lawyers to file an appeal against the High Court decision.

He maintained that the SIB lawsuit, unlike the Herald’s case, covered a much broader scope as it deals directly with the practice of the faith by their Malay-speaking congregation.

Sabah SIB’s case is one of a string of legal challenges initiated by the Malaysian Christian community against the federal government over alleged infringement of their constitutional right to freely practise their religion.

On March 5, a seven-man panel in the Federal Court heard the Catholic Church’s application for leave to appeal a ruling preventing the Herald from publishing the word “Allah”, but has postponed its decision indefinitely.

Another lawsuit, brought by Sarawakian Christian, Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, against the Home Ministry for seizing personal compact discs (CD) containing the word “Allah” back in May 2008.

Jill, a Melanau, filed her suit on August 20, 2008 seeking to quash the Home Ministry’s seizure of her CDs and a declaration that she has the right to own, use and import materials containing the word “Allah”.

The court is scheduled to review the ministry’s decision on May 15, nearly five years after she won leave for a judicial review in 2009.