Malaysian govt withdraws appeal against ruling allowing non-Muslims to use word ‘Allah’

Iman Muttaqin Yusof and Ili Shazwani
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysian govt withdraws appeal against ruling allowing non-Muslims to use word ‘Allah’ Members of the Muslim community hold a protest on the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims, outside the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya, Malaysia, June 23, 2014.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

The Malaysian government has decided to withdraw its appeal against a High Court ruling that allowed non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” to refer to God, the Attorney General’s office confirmed Monday, about a highly divisive issue in the Muslim-majority country.

Those against people of other religions using the word “Allah” say it could lead to “confused” Muslims renouncing Islam and causing them to convert or embrace “pluralist thinking.” 

The Anwar Ibrahim government did not give a reason for withdrawing the appeal. But two Muslim lawyers’ associations expressed disappointment, with one saying the “well-being” of the majority community was at stake. 

The appeal had been filed in 2021 by an earlier government against the High Court’s ruling that ended a decades-long ban and allowed Malaysian Christians to use “Allah” to refer to God, as they said they had been doing for centuries.

On April 18, the current government filed a notice to terminate that appeal, Senior Federal Counsel Shamsul Bolhassan told BenarNews.

“[T]he Home Ministry and Malaysian government have no intention of continuing with the appeal notice filed on March 12, 2021, and have terminated the entire appeal,” said the notice.

Back then, according to media reports, High Court Judge Nor Bee Ariffin had described a 1986 Home Ministry directive to bar the use of four Arabic words, including “Allah,” by non-Muslims as “illegal” and “irrational.” The judge said Christians in the states of Sabah and Sarawak had used the words in their church for hundreds of years.

The ruling was made in a 2008 case between a Christian woman from Sarawak named Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, and the Home Ministry, after the latter seized from her eight religious CDs containing the word “Allah” at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Despite the 2021 High Court ruling, the Sultan of Selangor issued a decree which said that the ban on the use of “Allah” and the three other words by non-Muslims remained applicable in Selangor state. The Sultan of the northern state of Kedah, had previously decreed that the use of “Allah” as an exclusive right of Muslims.

Such overruling by sultans is permitted in Malaysia’s dual legal system, where the ruler of the state is also its religious leader. 

‘Well-being of Muslims’

Association of Sarawak Churches Chairman Danald Jute welcomed the government decision to withdraw the appeal.

“However, I shall reserve further comments for now since the Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution has said he would call for a press conference to elaborate further on the matter,” Jute told BenarNews.

Saifuddin told media after an event in Selangor on Monday that he would give further details about the government decision to withdraw the appeal the next day.

Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar, president of the Federal Territories Sharia Lawyers Association, however, expressed concern about the government’s decision to withdraw the appeal.

“A full explanation is needed regarding this action and why was there no communication with the Muslim community?” he asked in a statement.

Another group, the Malaysian Islamic Lawyers Association, said the decision to withdraw the appeal could affect the well-being and balance of the country’s multiracial and multireligious society. 

“We hope that the Malaysian Government will review the matter and continue with the appeal to the highest court in the country, taking into account various aspects, particularly the interests and well-being of Muslims in this country,” association President Musa Awang said in a statement.

“[In] any action taken by the government, state laws should be considered, particularly those that prohibit the use of certain words [by non-Muslims], such as the word ‘Allah,’ which has been approved by the State Legislative Assembly and the states’ Sultans, and avoid any action that could undermine the power of the rulers.”


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