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Dropping appeal in 'Allah' case may give govt pull in Sabah and Sarawak, says lawyer

Rafique Rashid speaks of 'give and take' between Putrajaya and the two states.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
2 minute read

A lawyer says the government's decision to withdraw its appeal against a High Court ruling allowing the use of "Allah" in Christian publications may give it leverage in the event that political support is needed from Sabah and Sarawak. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Rafique Rashid also noted that Gereja Sidang Injil Borneo had withdrawn its application for a judicial review of the matter in the same week as the notice of termination in the case of Sarawakian Christian Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill. 

"The way I see it, these groups wish to uphold their rights in terms of practising Christianity in the states of Sabah and Sarawak and to use words in the Malay language related to their practices there," he said. 

"When the government needs support from Sabah and Sarawak to remain in power in Putrajaya, I think there will be give and take in terms of the rights of Christians to practise their faith in those states." 

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said earlier this week that the government's decision to withdraw its appeal was in line with the advice of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the decision of the Conference of Rulers.

He did not say whether the meeting with the Agong was held before or after the appeal was withdrawn. 

Rafique also questioned the government's initial silence on the matter as the Attorney-General's Office had filed the notice on April 18. 

"The issue only arose in May," he added. "The home minister was not very clear in his explanation."

As for Anwar's remark on May 16 that the ruling only applied in Sarawak, he said this did not appear to be stated in the court judgment, noting that while Jill was a Sarawakian, the confiscation of her CDs had taken place in LCCT, Sepang. 

Rafique also referred to cases that had occurred in 1986, when Anwar was a member of a committee tasked with deciding on terms that cannot be used in other religious publications.

He said Anwar, alongside the late Ghafar Baba and James Peter Ongkili, had decided that the words "Allah", "kaabah", "baitullah", and "solat" could not be used unless the words "for Christians" were stated on the cover. 

"Was it not his decision as well?" he added. 

He also questioned the affidavit submitted by Bangi MP Syahredzan Johan, Tebing Tinggi assemblyman Abdul Aziz Bari and former academic Azmi Sharom, stating that they were not confused by the use of the word by Christians. 

"I don't think that they alone are enough to represent the voice of Muslims in Malaysia," he said. 

"In the Jill Ireland case, the main stakeholders were the state religious councils and the sultans who have jurisdiction over Islam." 

He added that it would be better to hold a public poll or referendum to determine who among the public did not understand the issue, and who supported the government's decision to withdraw its appeal. 

"The most important party in this case who should speak up is the attorney-general as he is the government's lawyer, the individual who filed the appeal, and the individual who withdrew it," he said. 

"The attorney-general needs to answer and provide an explanation." 

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