Government has been wrong on all counts in the ‘Allah’ case Malaysia Insider concluded – after looking at transcript of High Court judge Datuk Lau Bee Lan’s controversial ‘Allah’ ruling on Sunday.
The online news portal said it obtained a copy of her 57-page judgment where the judge lays out the reasons and the laws behind her oral pronouncement.
On Dec 31, 2009, Justice Lau ruled that the Home Minister and the Government of Malaysia, who were named as 1st and 2nd Respondents respectively, has the discretion under Section 12 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act to issue or revoke a permit to the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Reverend Murphy Pakiam (the Applicant) to publish the Church’s newspaper, Herald — The Catholic Weekly.
But, the judge stressed, the respondents had made decisions that were illegal, unconstitutional and irrational when they barred the Catholic newspaper from publishing the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section.
The case was brought by the Roman Catholic Church, represented by the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Reverend Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam on February 16 last year when he filed for a judicial review against the Home Minister for barring it from using the word “Allah” as part of conditions for getting a publishing permit.
Pakiam is officially the Herald’s publisher. The Home Ministry has successfully applied for a stay of execution in the ruling pending an appeal. Below are excerpts highlighting the main disputes.
On why the Home Minister’s ban is illegal
“The Applicant submits the 1st Respondent has failed to take into account one or more of the relevant considerations…
1. The word “Allah” is the correct Bahasa Malaysia word for “God” and in the Bahasa Malaysia translation of the Bible, “God” is translated as “Allah” and “Lord” is translated as “Tuhan”;
2. For 15 centuries, Christians and Muslims in Arabic-speaking countries have been using the word “Allah” in reference to the One God. The Catholic Church in Malaysia and Indonesia and the greater majority of other Christian denominations hold that “Allah” is the legitimate word for “God” in Bahasa Malaysia;
3. The Malay language has been the lingua franca of many Catholic believers for several centuries especially those living in Melaka and Penang and their descendants in Peninsular Malaysia have practised a culture of speaking and praying in the Malay language;
4. The word “God” has been translated as “Allah” in the “Istilah Agama Kristian Bahasa Inggeris ke Bahasa Malaysia” first published by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia in 1989;
5. The Malay-Latin dictionary published in 1631 had translated “Deus” (the Latin word for God) as “Alla” as the Malay translation;
6. The Christian usage of the word “Allah” predates Islam being the name of God in the old Arabic Bible as well as in the modern Arabic Bible used by Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and other places in Asia, Africa, etc;
7. In Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, the word “Allah” has been used continuously in the printed edition of the Matthew’s Gospel in Malaysia in 1629, in the first complete Malay Bible in 1733 and in the second complete Malay Bible in 1879 until today in the Perjanjian Baru and the Alkitab;
8. Munshi Abdullah who is considered the father of modern Malay literature had translated the Gospels into Malay in 1852 and he translated the word “God” as “Allah”;
9. There was already a Bible translated into Bahasa Melayu in existence before 1957 which translation was carried out by the British and Foreign Bible Society where the word “Allah” was used;
10. There was also already in existence a Prayer Book published in Singapore on 3.1.1905 where the word “Allah” was used;
11. There was also a publication entitled “An Abridgment of the Christian Doctrine” published in 1895 where the word “Allah” was used.
12. Anther publication entitled “Hikajat Elkaniset” published in 1874 also contains the word “Allah”
13. The Bahasa Indonesia and the Bahasa Malaysia translations of the Holy Bible, which is the Holy Scriptures of Christians, have been used by the Christian natives of Peninsular Malaysia; Sabah and Sarawak for generations;
14. The Bahasa Malaysia speaking Christian natives of Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah had always and have continuously the word “Allah” for generations and the word “Allah” is used in the Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesian translations of the Bible used throught Malaysia;
15. At least for the last three decades the Bahasa Malaysia congregation of the Catholic Church have been freely using the Alkitab, the Bahasa Indonesia translation of the Holy Bible wherein the word “Allah appears;
16. The said publication is a Catholic weekly as stated on the cover of the weekly and is intended for the dissemination of news and information on the Catholic Church in Malaysia and elsewhere and is not for sale or distribution outside the Church;
17. The said publication is not made available to members of the public and in particular to persons professing the religion of Islam;
18. The said publication contains nothing which is likely to cause public alarm and/or which touches on the sensitivities of the religion of Islam and in the fourteen years of the said publication there has never been any untoward incident arising from the Applicant’s use of the word “Allah” in the said publication;
19. In any event the word “Allah” has been used by Christians in all countries where the Arabic language is used as well as in Indonesian/Malay language without any problems and/or breach of public order/ and/or sensitivity to persons professing the religion of Islam in these countries;
20. Islam and the control and restriction of religious doctrine or belief among Muslims professing the religion of Islam is a state matter and the Federal Government has no jurisdiction over such matters of Islam save in the federal territories
21. The subsequent exemption vide P.U.(A) 134/82 which permits the Alkitab to be used by Christians in churches ipso facto permits the use of the word “Allah” in the said publication;
22. The Bahasa Malaysia speaking congregation of the Catholic Church uses the word “Allah” for worship and instruction and that the same is permitted in the Al-Kitab.
“The Applicant further submits that none of the above-mentioned factual considerations were ever disputed or challenged by the 1st Respondent as factually incorrect. I am incline to agree with the Applicant as the response of the 1st Respondent to the factual averments is a feeble denial in paragraph 41 of the Affidavit of the 1st Respondent which reads “Keseluruhan pernyataan-pernyataan di perenggan-perenggan 50, 51 and 52(i)-(xxii) Affidavit Sokongan Pemohon adalah dinafikan…” (Emphasis added)
“Therefore I find the 1st Respondent in the exercise of his discretion to impose further conditions in the publication permit has not taken into account the relevant matters alluded to above, hence committing an error of law warranting this Court to interfere and I am of the view that the decision of the Respondents dated 7.1.2009 ought to be quashed,” she ruled.
On why the Home Minister’s ban is unconstitutional
Justice Lau also said the applicant’s grounds for the reliefs of certiorari and declaratio is premised on the unconstitutional acts and conduct being inconsistent with Articles 3(1), 10, 11 and 12 of the Federal Constitution…”
“Applying the principles enunciated in Meor Atiqulrahman Ishak (supra) to the instant case, there is no doubt that Christianity is a religion. The next question is whether the use of the word “Allah” is a practice of the religion of Christianity. In my view there is uncontroverted historical evidence allueded to in paragraph 52 (i) to (xxii) alluded to above which is indicative that use of the word “Allah” is a practice of the religion of Christianity. From the evidence, it is apparent the use of the word “Allah” is an essential part of the worship and instruction in the faith of the Malay (Bahasa Malaysia) speaking community of the Catholic Church in Malaysia and is integral to the practice and propagation of their faith.
“The next consideration is the circumstances under which the “prohibition” was made. The circumstances to my mind would be the factors which the Respondents rely on to justify the impugned decision which have been alluded to in paragraph 9(i) to (ix) above.
“As to the ground in paragraph 9(i) in my judgment, this is unmeritorious for the reason which has been dealt under the issue of whether the use of the word “Allah” endangers public order and national security. As to the ground in paragraph 9(ii), (iii), (v) and (ix), I have shown unchallenged evidence that there is a well established practice for the use of the “Allah” amongst the Malay speaking community of the Catholic faith in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak and the origin of the word and its translation…
“Considering all the factors, in my judgment, the imposition of the condition in the publication permit prohibiting the use of the word “Allah” in the said publication, “Herald – the Catholic Weekly” pursuant to the 1st Respondent’s exercise of powers under the Act contravenes the provisions of Articles 3(1), 11(1) and 11(3) of the Federal Constitution and therefore is unconstitutional,” she added.
On why the Home Minister’s ban is irrational
“The Applicant challenges the impugned decision under this head of irrationality/ Wednesbury unreasonableness which applies to “a decision which is so outrageous in its defiance of logic or of accepted moral standards that no sensible person who had applied his mind to the question to be decided could have arrived at it…”
(a) It is utterly irrational and unreasonable on the part of the Respondents on the one hand not to prohibit the congregation of the Catholic Church to use the word “Allah” for worship and instruction in their faith and in the AL-Kitab and on the other hand to state that the same word cannot be used in the said publication which serves to assist these persons in their worship and provide a medium of instruction in their faith and to disseminate news and information (see paragraph 52(xxii) of Applicant’s Affidavit).
(b) It is also utterly irrational and unreasonable on the part of the Respondents to require the Bahasa Malaysia speaking congregation of the Catholic Church to use another word to denote the Bahasa Malaysia word for “God” instead of the word “Allah” when such is and has always been the word used for the word “God” in the Catholic Church and throughout the Bahasa Malaysia speaking community of the Church in Malaysia…
“In relation to the 2 additional grounds mentioned in paragraph 17.1 above, the Respondents responded —
1. Merujuk kepada perenggan 20 Afidavit Sokongan Pemohon, Responden-Responden menegaskan bahawa Pernyataan YAB Perdana Menteri tersebut yang telah dikeluarkan melalui media cetak “The Star” pada 20/4/2005 adalah amat jelas mengarahkan agar di kulit “Bible” dalam versi Bahasa Melayu dinyatakan secara jelas bahawa ianya bukan untuk orang Islam and ianya hanya dijual doi kedai-kedai orang Kristian. Walau bagaimanapun saya sesungguhnya mempercayai dan meyatakan bahawa kenyataan media yang dirujuk itu adalah berhubung dengan Al-Kitab (Bible) sahaja dan tidak relevan kepada isu permit Herald – the Catholic Weekly yang mana syarat yang dikenakan adalah amat jelas dan perlu dipatuhi oleh Pemohon (paragraph 22 of the 1st Respondent’s Affidavit); and
2. the circulation of the Al-Kitab vide P.U.(A) 134 dated 13.5.1982 was made subject to the condition that its possession or use is only in churches by persons professing the Christian religion, throughout Malaysia.
“I find the 2 additional grounds submitted by the Applicant in paragraph 17.1 above to be of substance. It is to be noted that a common thread runs through like a tapestry in the Respondents’ treatment of restricting the use of the word “Allah” which appears in the Al-Kitab are (i) that it is not meant for Muslims; (ii) to be in the possession or use of Christians and in churches only. In fact, these restrictions are similar to that imposed as a second condition in the impugned decision save for the endorsement of the word “Terhad” on the front cover of the said publication. Relying on the chapter on maxims of interpretation at paragraph 44 p.156 of N.S Bindra’s Interpretation of the Statute, there is a maxim “Omne majus continet in se minus” which means “The greater contains the less”. One would have thought having permitted albeit with the usual restrictions the Catholic Church to use the word “Allah” for worship and in the Al-kitab, it would be logical and reasonable for the Respondents to allow the use of the word “Allah” in the said publication drawing an analogy by invoking the maxim “The greater contains the less”. Indeed I am incline to agree with the Applicant that the Respondents are acting illogically, irrationally and inconsistently and no person similarly circumstanced would have acted in a like manner…
“I find there is merit in the Applicant’s contention that when viewed on its merits, the reasons given by the Home Ministry in the various directives defies all logic and is so unreasonable,” Justice Lau wrote in her judgment.
On the seeming conflict between the Federal Constitution and the state enactments to control and restrict the propagation of religious doctrine among Muslims
She also wrote that, “Pursuant to Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution, ten States have enacted laws to control and restrict the propagation of religious doctrine or belief among Muslims. The laws are –
(i) Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non Islamic Religions Enactment 1980 (State of Terengganu Enactment No.1/1980)
2. Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non Islamic Religions Enactment 1981 (Kelantan Enactment No.11/1981)
3. Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non Islamic Religions Enactment 1988 (Malacca Enactment No.1/1988)
4. Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non Islamic Religions Enactment 1988 (Kedah Darulaman Enactment No.11/1988)
5. The Non Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 (Selangor Enactment No.1/1988)
6. Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non Islamic Religions Enactment 1988 (Perak Enactment No.10/1988)
7. Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non Islamic Religions Enactment 1989 (Pahang Enactment No.5/1989)
8. Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non Islamic Religions Enactment 1991 (Johor Enactment No.12/1991)
9. The Control and Restriction (The Propagation of Non Islamic Religions Amoing Muslims) (Negeri Sembilan) Enactment 1991 (Negeri Sembilan Enactment NO.9/1991); and
10. Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Religious Belief and Doctrine which is Contrary to the Religion of Islam Enactment 2002 (Perlis Enactment No.6 of 2002)
“It is not disputed that s. 9 of the various State Enactments provide for an offence relating to the use of certain words and expression listed in Part 1 or 11 of the Schedule or in the Schedule itself as the case maybe of the State Constitutions and which includes the word “Allah”. Further, all these State Enactments are made pursuant to Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution which reads “State law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.” (Emphasis added)…
“Mr Royan drew to the Court’s attention (i) that Article 11(4) which is the restriction does not state that State law can forbid or prohibit but “may control and restrict”; does not provide for State law or for any other law to control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing a religion other than Islam…
“I find there is merit in Mr Royan’s submission that unless we want to say that s.9 is invalid or unconstitutional to that extent (which I will revert to later), the correct way of approaching s.9 is it ought to be read with Article 11(4). If s.9 is so read in conjunction with Article 11(4), the result would be that a non-Muslim could be committing an offence if he uses the word “Allah” to a Muslim but there would be no offence if it was used to a non-Muslim. Indeed Article 11(1) reinforces this position as it states “Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it”. Clause 4 restricts a person’s right only to propagate his religious doctrine or belief to persons professing the religion of Islam. It is significant to note that Article 11(1) gives freedom for a person to profess and practise his religion and the restriction is on the right to propagate.
“I find Mr Royan’s argument is further augmented by the submission of Mr Benjamin Dawson, learned Counsel for the Applicant which I find to be forceful stating that this rule of construction is permissible in the light of the mischief the State Enactments seek to cure and the provision has to be interpreted to conform to the Constitution. … For completeness I shall now spell out the preamble in full “WHEREAS Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution provides that State law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam. AND WHEREAS it is not desired to make a law to control and restrict the propagation of non-Islamic religious doctrines and beliefs among persons professing the religion of Islam.” (Emphasis added) …
“Applying the said test to the factual matrix of the present case the Court has to bear in mind the constitutional and fundamental rights of persons professing the Christian faith to practise their religion and to impart their faith/religion to persons within their religious group and in this case, the Catholic Church comprises a large section of people from Sabah and Sarawak whose medium of instruction is Bahasa Malaysia and they have for years used religious material in which their God is called “Allah”; for that matter there is a large community who are Bahasa Malaysia speaking from Penang and Malacca. On the other hand the object of Article 11(4) and the State Enactments is to protect or restrict propagation to persons of the Islamic faith. Seen in this context by no stretch of the imagination can one say that s.9 of the State Enactments may well be proportionate to the object it seeks to achieve and the measure is therefore arbitrary and unconstitutional.
“As to the concern of the Respondents there is no guarantee that the magazine would be circulated only among Christians and it will not fall into the hands of Muslims, I agree with Mr Royan there is no requirement of any guarantee be given by anyone in order to profess and practise an even to propagate it.
“In my view if there are breaches of any law the relevant authorities may take the rleevant enforcement measures. We are living in a world of information technology; information can be readily accessible. Are guaranteed rights to be sacrificed at the altar just because the Herald has gone online and is accessible to all? One must not forget there is the restriction in the publication permit wich serves as an additional safeguard which is the word “TERHAD” is to be endorsed on the front page and the said publication is restricted to churches and to followers of Christianity only,” she added.
On the claim that the Home Minister’s ban was to safeguard public security and order
“There is merit in the Applicant’s argument that the Respondents in paragraph 45 of his Affidavit (also in paragraphs 6, 25 and 46) sought to justify imposing the condition in purported exercise of his powers under the said Act on a mere statement that the use of the word “Allah” is a security issue which is causing much confusion and which threatens and endangers public order, without any supporting evidence. A mere statement by the 1st Respondent that the exercise of power was necessary on the ground of national security without adequate supporting evidence is not sufficient in law….
“I find there is merit in Mr Dawson’s argument that the Court ought to take judicial notice that in Muslim countries even in the Middle East where the Muslim and Christian communities together use the word “Allah”, yet one hardly hear of any confusion arising (see paragraph 52(xix) of the Applicant’s Affidavit which is not rebutted). Further, I am incline to agree that the Court has to consider the question of “avoidance of confusion” as a ground very cautiously so as to obviate a situation where a mere confusion of certain persons within a religious group can strip the constitutional right of another religious groiup to practise and propagate their religion under Article 11(1) and to render such guaranteed right as illusory,” Justice Lau said.
On claims from the Muslim groups that “Allah” cannot be challenged in court
On this, she wrote, “I had on 31.12.2009 dismissed the applications of the Majlis Agama Islam (MAI) of Wilayah Persekutuan, Johore, Selangor, Kedah, Malacca, the MAI and Adat Melayu Terenggganu and MACMA to be heard in opposition under O.53 r.8 of the RHC (It is to be noted that the MAI and Adat Melayu Perak and MAI Pulau Pinang did not file any applicatio under O.53 r.8). That being the case, their submission contending the issue of whether any publication in whatever form by a non-Muslim individual or body or entity that uses the scared word of “Allah” can be permitted in law is one that is within the absolute discretion of the Rulers and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA) (in respect of Penang, Malacca, Sabah, Sarawak and the Federal Territories) as the respective Heads of Islam and is therefore non-justiciable is irrelevant at the substantive hearing of the judicial review application and need not be considered by this Court.
“I adopt the following responses of the Applicant contending the application is justiciable and I am of the view there is substance –
1. the Federal Constitution and the State Constitutions clearly provide that the Rulers and the YDPA as the Head of Islam in the States and the Federal Territories have exclusive authority only on Islamic affairs and Malay customs;
2. subject to Articles 10 and 11 of the Federal Constitution, the control and regulation of all publications and matters connected therewith are governed by federal law namely the Act and only the Minister for Home Affairs is involved in the implementation and enforcement of its provisions. Under this Act, only the Minister can decide what is permitted to be published and in this regard the Rulers and the YDPA have no role whatsoever under the scheme of this Act;
3. the present judicial reiew is not a judicial review of the decision of the Rulers or the YDPA as Head of Islam concerning the exercise of their duties and functions. It is only a judicial review of the 1st Respondent’s decision to impose a prohibition on the use of the word “Allah” by the Applicant in a publication. Since the Rulers or the YDPA cannot make any decision in respect of any publications and matters connected therewith, the issue of non justiciability does not arise.
On what the Court really ordered
She also listed out the orders from the court in the landmark case, “ In conclusion in the circumstances the Court grants the Applicant the following order:
1. an Order of Certiorari to quash the decisio of the Respondents dated 7.1.2009 that the Applicant’s Publication Permit for the period 1.1.2009 until 31.12.2009 is subject to the condition that the Applicant is prohibited from using the word “Allah” in “Herald – the Catholic Weekly” pending the Court’s determination of the matter;
2. Jointly the following declarations:
(i) that the decision of the Respondents dated 7.1.2009 that the Applicant’s Publication Permit for the period 1.1.2009 until 31.12.2009 is subject to the condition that the Applicant is prohibited from using the word “Allah” in “Herald – the Catholic Weekly” pending the Court’s determination of the matter is null and void;
(ii) that pursuant to Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution the Applicant has the constitional right to use the word “Allah” in “Herald — the Catholic Weekly” in the exercise of the Applica’ right that religions other than Islam may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation;
(iii) that Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution which states that Islam is the religion of the Federation does not empower and/or authorize the Respondents to prohibit the Applicant from using the word “Allah” in “Herald — the Catholic Weekly”;
(iv) that pursuant to Article 10 of the Federal Constitution the Applicant has the constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in “Herald – the Catholic Weekly” in the exercise of the applicant’s right to freedom of speech and expression;
(v) that pursuant to Article 11 of the Federal Constitution the Applicant has the constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in “Herald — the Catholic Weekly” in the exercise of the Applicant’s freedom of religion which includes the right manage its own religious affairs;
(vi) that pursuant to Article 11 and 12 of the Federal Constitution the Applicant has the constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in “Herald — the Catholic Weekly” in the exercise of the Applicant’s right in respect of instruction and education of the Catholic congregation in the Christian religion.