Court postpones ‘Allah’ decision indefinitely

Members of the Catholic clergy speak to their lawyers as they wait outside the Federal Court in Putrajaya March 5, 2014. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Members of the Catholic clergy speak to their lawyers as they wait outside the Federal Court in Putrajaya March 5, 2014. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

PUTRAJAYA, March 5 — The Federal Court today postponed indefinitely a decision on whether it will allow the Catholic Church to appeal a lower court ruling preventing a Catholic newspaper from using the word “Allah” to refer to God.

As an unruly crowd gathered outside the country’ highest court to await the decision, a seven-man panel headed by Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria listened to arguments from both sides before postponing its ruling to a yet-to-be-determined date.

During the hearing, the lawyer for the Catholic Church said that the publication in question, Herald, had been circulating for 14 years without disrupting public order.

He argued that the home minister’s justification for banning the Herald from using the word “Allah” on the grounds of national security and public order could be questioned by the court.

He pointed out that the only incidence of violence happened after the High Court’s 2009 decision upholding the Church’s constitutional right to refer to God as “Allah” in the Herald.

“How can any reasonable minister come to this conclusion? It cannot be something that is fanciful and purely outrageous,” he added.

A supporter gives flowers to members of the Catholic clergy outside the Federal Court building in Putrajaya March 5, 2014. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
A supporter gives flowers to members of the Catholic clergy outside the Federal Court building in Putrajaya March 5, 2014. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

Senior federal counsel Suzana Atan, however, argued that cases of national security should not be made evidence in court.

“After the decision of the High Court, public order was breached,” said the lawyer representing the Home Ministry and the federal government, referring to the attacks on churches and other houses of worship shortly after the 2009 High Court ruling.

Mubashir Mansor, representing the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council, said that the Catholic Church needed to show that the word “Allah” is found in the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures to prove that the Arabic word is an integral part of Christianity.

“It’s not enough to show that the Malay translation of the bible uses the word ‘Allah’. We’re dealing with mistranslation. It’s not the case of Islam interfering with Christianity,” he argued.

Haniff Khatri Abdullah, representing the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (Macma) also questioned if the Church had evidence that the correct translation for God is “Allah”.

“In the prayer book, there is interchangeable use of Allah and Tuhan. It says Tuhan Jesus; it doesn’t say Allah Jesus,” the lawyer argued.

Church leaders have said previously that “Allah” is translated as God, while “Tuhan” means Lord.

A Muslim women cries during a special prayer outside Malaysia’s Federal Court in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur March 5, 2014. — Reuters pic
A Muslim women cries during a special prayer outside Malaysia’s Federal Court in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur March 5, 2014. — Reuters pic

There are nine respondents in the Church’s appeal, including the Home Ministry and various Islamic religious councils

Malaysian Bar Council president Christopher Leong and civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan held a watching briefs for the lawyers group.

After the hearing, Leong told reporters that the presence of the Chief Justice, Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Raus Sharif, Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, and Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Richard Malanjum in the panel showed the gravity of the case.

“That in itself will tell you that this appeal involves issues of huge public importance,” he said.

Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, told reporters that the Catholic Church would wait for the court’s decision before commenting.