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KUCHING, March 18 — The on-going legal battle over the “Allah” ruling could have been settled out of court if Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had agreed to a proposal to amend the 1986 administrative directive when he was home minister, former colleague Baru Bian said today.
He said the proposal was for an administrative resolution to amend the 1986 Administrative Directive dated December 5, 1986 prohibiting the use of the word “Allah”.
He said under the amendments to the directive, the word “Allah” is permitted to be used in Christian publications in Sabah and Sarawak unconditionally; while it is permitted to be used in Christian publications in Peninsular Malaysia with the condition that the front cover of the same contains a chop with the symbol of a cross and the sentence “Christian Publication”.
“The proposal was based on the 2010 Ten-Point Solution which acknowledged the different circumstances in the Borneo states and the Malayan states.
“I was informed by the lawyer for Jill Ireland and Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Sabah that the Senior Federal Counsel of the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) was amenable to the proposal but had to get the approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs, headed then by the present prime minister,” he said, referring to Muhyiddin.
“However, the then minister of home affairs was not in favour of an out-of-court settlement and wanted the court to decide, for reasons best known to himself.
“Now that the court has made a ruling, he should advise the people to respect the decision,” said the Selangau MP.
His remarks came following the Gabungan Parti Sarawak Backbenchers Club’s allegation that he did nothing to resolve the “Allah” issue when he was in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.
Baru said he had brought up the issue in the Cabinet on November 8, 2019, and a Special Committee of Ministers comprising himself, Muhyiddin, Datuk Darell Leiking, the late Datuk VK Liew and Datuk Seri Mujahid Yusof Rawa was formed to discuss and resolve the matter.
Liew was then de facto law minister and Mujahid then minister in charge of religious affairs.
He said sometime in mid-2019 the Cabinet agreed that the issue should be settled outside court and mandated Tun Daim Zainuddin, the Chairman of the Council of Eminent Persons to resolve the matter.
He said this was after he had met lawyers for the Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill and SIB Sabah cases and senior federal counsel (SFC) of the AGC.
“The lawyers had indicated to the SFC representing the federal government that they were prepared to settle the matter outside a court or to work on an administrative resolution of these two cases.
“The court was duly informed and the court’s decision was postponed many times pending out-of-court settlement,” Baru said, adding that Daim could not move forward as the Cabinet decision mandating him to resolve the issue was not officially communicated to him.
He said the Special Committee of Ministers had its first meeting at the end of November 2019 but Muhyiddin was unable to attend.
“I briefed the Cabinet thereafter and requested for time to look into the matter and how the issue could be resolved on a win-win situation.
“In the meantime, we were told that the matter was further fixed for case management in the latter part of January 2020,” he said, adding that he then advised the lawyers for Ireland and SIB Sabah to write officially again to the SFC of the earlier proposal with additional proposals while waiting for a final decision by the Cabinet.
He said the lawyers wrote a letter dated February 12, 2020 to the SFC with the same proposed amendments to the 1986 Administrative Directive and added that in order to facilitate the administrative resolution the applicants were prepared to take two interim steps.
He said the steps were that pending a decision by the Cabinet on the resolution of the matter there should be a moratorium on enforcing the 1986 Administrative Directive; and that the applicants should withdraw the two pending judicial review applications in the High Court.
“Before the Special Committee of Ministers and/or the Cabinet could make a final decision, the PH government collapsed at the end of February 2020.
“The matter was hence out of our hands and was left to be dealt with by the Ministry of Home Affairs under the current government.
“Plainly no resolution was arrived at and the High Court was obliged to hand down its decision,” he said.
While some Muslims in Malaysia believe “Allah”, the Arabic word for God, to be exclusive to Islam, it was adopted into the national language generations ago and used throughout by Malay-speaking Christians in the country, especially those living in Sabah and Sarawak.
On March 10, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled that the government directive via a December 5, 1986 circular issued by the Home Ministry’s publications control division was unlawful and unconstitutional.
This government directive was the one that banned the use of the word “Allah” in Christian publications.