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Monday, June 30, 2014

'Allah' ruling not binding on others, court told


In the first litmus test for the Christian community since the Heraldruling by the Federal Court last week, lawyers are arguing the apex court's decision should not be a precedent for the latest ‘Allah’ case involving a Christian Melanau.

Lawyers for Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, who is seeking an order to squash the Home Ministry's decision to confiscate eight of her Christian-related CDs which used the word 'Allah' in 2008, made this point in their submission at the KL High Court (Appellate and Special Powers Division) this morning.

Jill's case is the first to move forward since the Federal Court last Monday refused to intervene in a Court of Appeal decision thatupheld the Home Ministry's ban against weekly Christian publication Herald from using the word "Allah".

The Court of Appeal decision on Oct 14, 2013, has raised concerns among the Christian community as it had ventured into the area of theology, going to the extent of stating that the word 'Allah' is not integral to the Christian faith.

While the Federal Court had refused to disturb the decision on the ban, it also said the remarks made in the Court of Appeal ruling were merely "obiter", meaning that is it only an opinion and is non-binding as precedent.

Jill's lead counsel Lim Heng Seng today used the same argument to support his case, adding that the Attorney-General’s Chambers had said the Court of Appeal decision is confined only to the Bahasa Malaysia edition of the Herald.

"Within hours following the Federal Court decision (not to intervene), the Prime Minister's Office had also released a statement that the decision applies only to the Herald and other Christians can continue to use the word 'Allah'," he submitted before High Court Judge Zaleha Yusof.

Christian books for children confiscated

A similar case had appeared before Justice Zaleha in May involving the Home Ministry's confiscation of Christian books for children which contained the word ‘Allah’ belonging to Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB).

In that case, Zaleha had denied SIB permission to initiate a judicial review of the Home Ministry's decision, citing that she was bound by the Court of Appeal's ruling that the word ‘Allah’ is not integral to Christian faith.

However her decision was prior to last week's Federal Court's ‘obiter dictum’ ruling of the Court of Appeal decision and SIB lawyers have indicated they will appeal based on that.

Jill's case was filed in 2009 but had been in limbo pending theHerald case which only came to a conclusion after almost four years.

Jill, 33, a Malay-speaking Sarawakian Christian of Melanau descent, had on May 11, 2008 returned from Indonesia via the then Low Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang with eight Christian-related CDs for her personal use.

The CDs containing titles including 'Cara Menggunakan Kunci Kerajaan Allah’, ‘Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah’ and ‘Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah' were brought in from Indonesia.

They were  subsequently seized by the Home Ministry, purportedly under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) on the premise of public order, that they contained the prohibited word ‘Allah’ and were in breach of the Department of Islamic Development’s (Jakim) guidelines.

All states in Malaysia have enactments outlawing the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims with the exception of Penang, Sabah, Sarawak and the Federal Territories.

In his submission today, Lim said Sabah and Sarawakians Christians had already used the word 'Allah’ to refer to God even before the formation of Malaysia and Christian scriptures in the region which use the word, go as far back as 1629.

He further submitted that the Home Ministry's ban on the word ‘Allah’ for non-Muslims had exceeded its constitutional powers as the regulation of religion was a state matter.

He added Jakim is not a lawful authority in the administration of the PPPA and invoking the law on the premise of Jakim's guideline was tantamount to surrendering the Home Minister's discretionary powers to an extraneous third party.

Also representing Jill are lawyers Annou Xavier (left) and Nizam Bashir.

Several other lawyers were present to hold watching briefs.

They represented organisations like the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), Bible Society of Malaysia, Sidang Injil Borneo, National Evangelical Christian Fellowship and the Sabah Council of Churches.

Sikhs use ‘Allah’ too

MCCBCHST lawyer Philip Koh requested time to briefly address the court after Lim's submission on instruction of the body's president, Jagir Singh.

He noted that the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Malanjum (left), in his dissenting decision in the Herald's ruling, had pointed out the word ‘Allah’ is also use in Sikhism’s holy scriptures.

The government was represented by senior federal counsel Munahyza Mustafa and Shamsul Bolhassan.

Munahyza argued that the Christian CDs containing the word ‘Allah’ would indeed be confusing and prejudicial to public order.

"The concept of trinity (in Christianity) is not the same in Islam where ‘Allah’ is one," she said.

She added that the home minister had acted within his powers and the Church fire-bombing incidents after the Kuala Lumpur High Court initially ruled the Herald could use the word ‘Allah’ in 2009 was proof that it affected public order.

Shamsul concurred that the theological side of the Court of Appeal decision was ‘obiter dictum’ but said its considerations on administrative and constitutional grounds stand.

Justice Zaleha fixed July 21 for a decision on the matter.

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