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Govt should have let law take its course in 'Allah' case, says Muhyiddin

The former prime minister maintains that allowing the use of the Arabic term in Christian material will threaten religious harmony.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
Former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
Former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin today said the government should have allowed the court to solve the dispute over the use of the term "Allah", following Putrajaya's announcement this week that it was dropping its appeal to challenge a High Court decision in 2021 allowing Christians to use the term in their religious publications.

"If the court still does not favour the government after the appeal process is completed, then the government may amend the law in order to ensure that the purpose of the law is enforced, which is to guarantee harmony among multi-religious communities and maintain public order in this country," Muhyiddin said in a statement.

On March 10, 2021, the High Court ruled in favour of an application filed by a Sarawakian Christian, Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill.

She had sought a court declaration that her constitutional rights were violated when the home ministry in 2008 seized Christian religious CDs and books using the term "Allah" under Section 9(1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

The court decision was followed by an appeal filed by Putrajaya, then under the Perikatan Nasional government headed by Muhyiddin.

Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail however confirmed that the government was not going ahead with the appeal, sparking criticism from Muslim groups including the former minister in charge of Islam, Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri, who said the appeal against the High Court decision was based on the stand by a committee in charge of issuing national-level fatwas, as well as decrees from the sultans of Johor and Selangor.

Muhyiddin, who was home minister during the first term of the Pakatan Harapan government led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, also revealed that a minister from DAP had approached his ministry requesting Putrajaya to settle Jill's case out of court.

"I did not agree with this request because by out-of-court settlement, it meant the home ministry should withdraw the confiscation order of the CDs containing Christian religious material using the word 'Allah'.

"The home ministry's position at that time was that the case must be decided in court according to the legal process. One of the main arguments of the ministry was that the spread of Christian material containing the word 'Allah' could cause anxiety among Muslims and was likely to threaten public order and national security," said Muhyiddin.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim defended the decision to drop the appeal, saying the prohibition on non-Muslims using the term "Allah" in their religious materials remained.

"This is in the case of Sarawak only. The ruling is not applicable elsewhere like in Melaka, Penang or Selangor," he said.

Saifuddin meanwhile said the Jill Ireland case had to do with the confiscation of her materials, and urged the public to report any unlawful publications that could threaten public order.