KUALA LUMPUR: The 1986 Government Directive, which dictates the absolute prohibition on the use of the word “Allah”, is unconstitutional, the High Court was told today.
Counsel Lim Heng Seng, who is appearing for Jill Ireland, a Melanau Christian, in her judicial review application seeking a declaration that she had the right to keep, use and import published materials containing the word “Allah”, said the directive went against Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of religion.
Lim said as a result of the directive, the rights of the Bahasa Malaysia speaking Christian community to practise their religion have been impacted.
“They are not merely restricted but also denied their fundamental right to practise their religion by having access to their Holy Scriptures and other Christian religious literature.
“What it means is you can call upon God with your mouth, but the word Allah cannot be used in publications and other Christian literature.
“If they can profess God with their mouths, then they must also be allowed to use Allah in their literature. Freedom to practise religion means one must have access to such publications,” he said in his submissions before Justice Nor Bee Ariffin today.
Ireland had named the home ministry and the government as respondents.
Lim also argued that the blanket ban of the use of the word “Allah” was neither proportionate nor reasonable.
“Here is a case of their rights being taken away without giving them a chance to be heard.
“It is done without any regard for a community who has been doing this for many generations,” he said, referring especially to the Christian communities from Sarawak and Sabah.
Lim also said the term Allah has been used in all aspects of the Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christian community’s practice of their faith, from the earliest days owing to BM being the lingua franca of the region among the native peoples as well as the consequence of the successful implementation of the National Education Policy.
He said it was unacceptable and repugnant that the Christians who are the products of the national education system are now being penalised for being educated under the very policy of the federal government.
He further stated that the directive was discriminatory towards the BM-speaking Christian community, who are a minority faith community in Malaysia, in spite of the word Allah being common in both Islam and Christianity.
Lim also said that there is simply no evidential cases that the use of the word “Allah” since the 1600s until today has sparked any public disorder, with the exception of what happened following the Catholic-Herald decision in 2010.
He was referring to the grounds provided for the ban, under the purported exercise of powers under Section 7 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), which are public disorder and preventing any misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians.
Lim said no one knew the real reason for the ban, with the minister just saying it is to avoid misunderstandings and confusion.
Lim stated the pertinent question was if the perceived problem can be resolved by banning the word “Allah”.
“The use of the word for generations until today had not caused any prejudice to public order on the purported reason of confusion and religious sensitivity.
“Even if there is any confusion, such could be resolved by adequate education by state religious authorities and inter-religious dialogues and accommodation,” he said.
Lim said the circular on the ban, according to the minister, remains in force and has not been withdrawn, which in essence means that “they are stating unequivocally that they will continue to seize any Christian publications with the word ‘Allah’.”
Lim also claimed the directive was unlawful, as Section 7 or any other provisions of the PPPA does not authorise the respondents to issue a blanket ban of any word from being used.
The directive, he noted, has been elevated to and applied as though it was law.
Lim was assisted by Annou Xavier and Mansor Saat, while government lawyer Shamsul Bolhassan appeared for the respondent.
Hearing into the application resumes on Nov 2.
On May 11, 2008, the CDs titled “Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah”, “Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah” and “Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah”, were seized by Customs officers from Ireland, a Melanau from Sarawak, on her arrival at the former Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang.
On Aug 20, 2008, she filed an application for leave for judicial review to reclaim the eight CDs, naming the home ministry and government as respondents.
On July 21, 2014, the High Court ordered the home ministry to return the CDs to Ireland but did not issue a declaration she had applied for, that she had the right to keep, use and import published materials containing the word “Allah”.
On June 23, 2015, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision for the home ministry to return the eight CDs to Ireland within one month of the ruling date.
The panel also remitted Ireland’s application for the declaration to the High Court.
She now wants a declaration that she has the right to import the CDs in the exercise of her rights to practise her religion and the right to education, as provided for by the Federal Constitution’s Article 11 on the freedom of religion.
The High Court will also decide on Ireland’s bid for a declaration that the Constitution’s Article 8 guarantees her equality before the law and protection from discrimination on grounds of religion in the administration of law, especially the PPPA1984 and the Customs Act 1967.