KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 — The Court of Appeal today ruled unanimously against allowing the Catholic Church to use the word “Allah” in its weekly publication the Herald, saying that the government did not impugn on the Church’s constitutional rights in banning the use of the word.
Justice Datuk Seri Mohamed Apandi Ali, who read out a summary of the judgement, said the home minister had acted well within his powers to disallow the Herald from using the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section.
“It is our common finding that the usage of the name ‘Allah’ is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity.
“From such finding, we find no reason why the respondent is so adamant to use the name ‘Allah’ in their weekly publication. Such usage, if allowed, will inevitably cause confusion within the community,” he said before a packed courtroom.
The Allah case returned to the courts last September, over three years after Putrajaya filed an appeal against the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s decision in favour of allowing Catholic weekly the Herald to continue using the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section.
The Catholic Church had in July this year moved to strike out the government’s appeal after patience ran out with the lack of progress in the government’s challenge on the decision that has contributed to festering interfaith ties in the country.
The Allah row erupted in 2008 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the Herald’s newspaper permit, prompting the Catholic Church to sue the government for violating its Constitutional rights.
Apandi, who sat on a three-member bench with Justices Datuk Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahim and Datuk Mohd Zawawi Salleh, said they were satisfied the home minister had considered sufficient material before exercising his powers under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 when he banned the Catholic Church’s newspaper from using the word “Allah”.
“Although the test under the written law is subjective, there is sufficient evidence to show that such subjective decision was derived by considering all facts and circumstances in an objective manner,” he said.
Apandi also cited legal maxims that place the safety of the public and state above all else and that “the welfare of an individual or group must yield to that of the community”.
The Court of Appeal also ruled that the earlier judicial review at the High Court only considered the manner in which the home minister came to his decision and not at the merits behind the decision.
Apandi noted that when a decision involves the use of discretionary powers, as in the Allah case, the “determinable issues” would depend on the facts of the case.
The Catholic Church will have 30 days from now to file an application for leave at the Federal Court to appeal against today’s judgement.
The 2009 High Court decision upholding the Catholic Church’s constitutional right to use the word “Allah” had shocked Muslims who considered the word to only refer to the Muslim God.
It also led to Malaysia’s worst religious strife, with houses of worship throughout the country coming under attack.
Christians are the third largest religious population at 2.6 million, according to statistics from the 2010 consensus, behind Muslims and Buddhists.