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20 March 2021

KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court here revealed that the four Arabic words, including "Allah", are allowed to be used by Christians in their publications on the condition that it must be stated "For Christians Only" on the front page of such materials. In her 96-page written judgment, Justice Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin said her ruling that Christians nationwide could use the word Allah, Baitullah, Kaabah and solat in their religious publications for educational purposes was based on the government's May 1986 policy.

She said the Cabinet came out with the policy decision in May 1986, according to a note by the then Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Ghafar Baba to the Home Ministry. "The plain and clear language in the DPM's note in my view simply means that the 12 words could be used unconditionally while the four words (Allah, Baitullah, Kaabah and solat) could not be used, but the four words could be used subject to the condition stated immediately below the four words. It is crucial to bear in mind the condition that the words 'For Christians Only' be printed on the front cover of the books," she added. The judge said, however, on Dec 5, 1986, a directive was issued by the Home Ministry to all Christian publications that the four words were totally prohibited. "Among the reasons for the prohibition was to avoid any misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians which could threaten public security and order, as well as hurt religious sensitivities of Malaysians," she said. Nor Bee said it was on this directive that the then Home Minister Tan Sri Syed Hamid Syed Jaafar Albar had affirmed an affidavit in support of the ministry's argument to ban Sarawak native Christian, Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, from using the word "Allah".

"His ministry, being in charge of regulating printing and publication, was made responsible to execute and enforce the said law and the government policy under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (Act 301). "In my view, on a true and proper construction of the then prime minister's letter (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) and the late Ghafar Baba's note, the Cabinet's policy decision did not impose a total ban on the four words. The impugned directive did. The impugned directive, in my view, was simply a stand-alone directive, so to speak, issued by the Publications Control Division of the ministry. The judge also stressed that, if the Cabinet's policy decision was correctly, properly and validly carried into effect by using the appropriate law under the charge of the Home Ministry, there might not even be this judicial review proceeding. On March 10, the judge ruled that Christians nationwide could use the words Allah, Baitullah, Kaabah and solat in their religious publications for educational purposes after allowing a judicial review application by Jill Ireland. Last Monday, the government, however, filed an appeal against the High Court's ruling to the Court of Appeal. - Bernama

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