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'Allah' ban remains, Anwar insists

Grilled by MPs today, the prime minister says the appeal is in conflict with the stand of the Malay rulers on the use of the term by non-Muslims.

Staff Writers
3 minute read
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Photo: Bernama
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Photo: Bernama

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim today again defended the move not to appeal against a High Court decision allowing the use of term "Allah" in Christian material, saying it was done after consultation with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

He said the Agong had said that any decision must be in line with the Malay rulers council, which prohibits the Arabic word for God from being used by Christians in the peninsula, while giving leeway for those in the two Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak.

"The matter of not referring it (to the rulers) does not arise.

"The decision by the Cabinet on Feb 7 was to confirm the decision and advice of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, in line with the decision by the Council of Rulers that the term 'Allah' cannot be used, even if there are other views," he told the Dewan Rakyat today, responding to a question from Bagan Serai MP Idris Ahmad.

He said while PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and others have expressed their personal opinion in not opposing the use of "Allah" by non-Muslims, the government would only stick to the current policy by the home ministry in limiting its use.

Anwar said the case involving Sarawakian Christian Jill Lawrence had to do with religious materials for Sarawak.

"So the attorney-general decided not to appeal. In his opinion, this decision is in line with that of the Malay rulers. 

"And it is also the same as the decision which has remained unchanged all this time, especially in 1986, namely the decision made by the Council of Rulers and on the directions of the administration," he said, referring to a Cabinet decision under Dr Mahathir Mohamad's administration that year. 

Anwar as a minister under Mahathir was then part of a committee tasked with studying the usage of Arabic words in non-Muslim religious materials. 

The committee's decision became the basis for a home ministry ban on several terms, which included "Allah", in religious materials other than Islam. 

Anwar said the attorney-general was of the view that the government's case in the appeal was weak due to the home ministry's decision.

"So for this reason, we end by amending all of the rules so that it is clear, and no case can be brought to court."

Anwar said the government would now study all decisions on the matter, including the one reached in 1986.

"Meanwhile, our decision is to fully comply with the decision of the Malay rulers regarding 'Allah' in the peninsula, and (to give) space in Sabah and Sarawak," he said.

He further said the court's decision on the Jill case, who challenged the government's confiscation of her Christian religious material for containing the word "Allah", applied only to Sarawak.

On March 10, 2021, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled in favour of an application filed by Jill Ireland, who sought a 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 Yassin.

The announcement by Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution that the government was dropping its appeal sparked a flurry of criticism from Muslim groups, lawyers as well as top Perikatan Nasional leaders.

Former federal territories mufti Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri reminded that the appeal was filed 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.

Former prime minister Muhyiddin said the government should have allowed the court to solve the dispute, while opposition leader Hamzah Zainuddin took Anwar to task for saying that the High Court decision allowing the term to be used by non-Muslims was only applicable for Sarawak.