Do Muslims have a monopoly on the word Allah?

by - 24th June 2015

ON June 23, after a court battle taking eight years, indigenous Christian Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill will finally be allowed to have her eight religious CDs returned to her.

The second highest court in Malaysia, the Court of Appeals (COA), dismissed the Malaysian government’s appeal and upheld the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s (KLHC) order that the CDs should be returned to Ireland.

The High Court had ordered the Home Ministry to return the CDs to Ireland in July 2014.

Additionally, the three-man Court of Appeal unanimously held that a Customs officer had overstepped her powers when she instructed that the CDs which contained the word ‘Allah’ be confiscated in May 2008.

However, the question of Ireland’s constitutional right to import materials and use the word ‘Allah’ in her religious worship was left unanswered.

Instead, the Court of Appeal has directed that the issues be dealt with by the High Court on July 2.

Rights

Ireland is an indigenous Christian of the Melanau tribe, from the Borneo Evangelical Church in Sarawak.

Apart from seeking the return of her CDs, Ireland had asked the Court of Appeal to determine her constitutional right to use ‘Allah’ in her religious practice in line with Articles 8 and 11 of the Federal Constitution.

Article 8 relates to no discrimination against any person on race and religion while Article 11 says that every person is free to profess and practise their religion under the law.

‘We are remitting the matter to the High Court before another judge so as not to deprive the rights of both parties (the Government of Malaysia and Ireland),’ said Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya on June 23.

In the 32-page judgement, Tengku Maimun also said that Ireland should have filed a separate suit to determine the constitutionality of her right to use the Arabic word ‘Allah’ in her religious practice.

The Court of Appeal also said that the issues concerning freedom of religion and rights to equality or freedom from discrimination should have been dealt with by the High Court.

The other judges were Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim and Zakaria Sam.

Controversy

The Customs department had seized 34-year-old Ireland’s CDs on May 11 2008, at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang.

The CDs carried titles such as ‘Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah’ (How to live in God’s kingdom), ‘Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah’ (Right living in God’s kingdom) and ‘Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah’ (True faith in God’s kingdom’.

The ‘Allah’ controversy in Malaysia erupted in 2009 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke Catholic newsletter The Herald for its usage of the Arabic word for God – ‘Allah’.

The Malaysian government held that the term ‘Allah’ is exclusive to Muslims and that other religions could not use the word.

In multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia, Christians comprise some ten per cent of the population.

The majority of Christians in Malaysia are indigenous peoples in Sabah and Sarawak who primarily worship in local languages similar to the Malay language.

Their usage of the word ‘Allah’ to replace ‘God’ dates back to Malaysia’s pre-independence.

One of the oldest evidences of Christian use of the word ‘Allah’can be found in a Bible translation from 1514.

The Dutch trader Albert Cornelisz Ruyl’s Malay translation of the Gospel of Matthew in 1612 also used the Arabic term for God.