PM Anwar says govt withdrew ‘Allah’ appeal because it was futile due to current policy, Rulers’ decision

·4-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 — Persisting with an appeal in the “Allah” court dispute with a Sarawakian Christian would have been futile after a 1986 Cabinet and the Conference of Rulers had decided that non-Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak could use the word under certain conditions, according to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The prime minister was explaining his government’s recent decision to drop the case, which has revived a long-simmering debate about the use of the Arabic word for God in Malaysia.

“If one insists on going to court knowing very well that there is no case, then it can only mean that he is not wise,” he was quoted by The Star as telling reporters in Rembau, Negeri Sembilan yesterday.

Anwar asked how his government could continue to appeal the High Court ruling in favour of the Sarawakian Christian Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, when it knows of the existing policy on the use of the word “Allah”.

“The government had already agreed in 1986 and the Malay Rulers had given their consent allowing the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak under certain conditions.

“It was also decided (then) that only non-Muslims in the peninsula were prohibited from using ‘Allah’," he was quoted as saying.

Anwar also said he has informed the Yang di-Pertuan Agong that the current Cabinet took note of the 1986 decision and that it plans to suggest slight changes to avoid court disputes in the future.

He added that the Agong has consented for the recommendations to be presented to the Conference of Rulers.

Anwar said the 1986 decision continues to apply now, but said his government would comply if the Malay Rulers want to make changes and decide that non-Muslims cannot use the word “Allah”.

Anwar also questioned the backlash against his administration for upholding the law, noting that some of the most strident critics were members of the previous government.

“I would like to ask why the other governments before this, including those in power two or three years ago, did not do anything about it?”

Anwar said his government remains committed to safeguard and strengthen the position of Islam in the country.

He said his administration had increased the budget for Islamic schools this year compared to the previous administration’s allocation.

On April 18, the government and the home minister withdrew its appeal against the High Court's 2021 decision in Jill Ireland's case, which had quashed the Home Ministry's December 1986 directive which banned the use of the word “Allah” in Christian publications in Malaysia.

The High Court had declared the Home Ministry's December 1986 directive to be “unconstitutional and unlawful”, as it contradicted and was inconsistent with the Cabinet's May 1986 policy decision regarding the use of the word “Allah”.

The High Court’s 2021 decision did not touch on theology or religious debate, but was based purely on legal and constitutional issues as well as all available evidence presented in court including historical documents — which documented the use of the word “Allah” in Christian publications in Malay as early as the year 1629.

News of the appeal withdrawal was reported on May 15, which was confirmed by Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail.

Yesterday, Saifuddin took to Twitter to explain that the court case involved an administrative issue linked to the government's 2008 seizure of eight compact discs from Jill Ireland.

The eight CDs contained the word “Allah” and were for her personal use as she was a Melanau Christian whose primary language was Bahasa Malaysia.

Saifuddin said that the Anwar administration would as a “responsible government” study a more comprehensive directive to handle the issue of the usage of the word “Allah”, since the old Home Ministry directive in 1986 – which contradicted the Cabinet's May 1986 decision – could not be used or applied.

The word “Allah” is Arabic for God and had been adopted into the Malay language, and had been used for generations and hundreds of years by Malay-speaking Christians in the country — especially those from Sabah and Sarawak — in the practice of their religion and professing of their faith.