Allah Controversy All Over Again?
The Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council (“Council”) lost its bid to intervene as a party in the Malaysian Government’s appeal against a High Court ruling requiring it to return 8 CDs containing the word “Allah”. Observers are quick to note that the case could very well develop into another Allah controversy, addressing the same constitutional questions that the Federal Court failed to do so in The Herald’s case. This is because Jill Ireland had also cross appealed for the Court of Appeal to address these issues which the High Court also failed to address when it ordered the return of the seized CDs to her.
The Petition To Intervene
Earlier this week, Jill Ireland filed her objections to the bid by the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council to be made a party in the government’s appeal against a High Court order to return the 8 CDs with the word “Allah” in it. Among the reasons given by the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council for intervening in this case were:
1. It has the right to regulate how non-Muslims pray and the materials they use, including audio and texts.
2. The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong and/or Sultan, as head of Islam for the relevant state, has the right to regulate all matters relating to Islam including the use of the word “Allah”.
3. Some of the relief sought by Jill Ireland, including the right to use, import, export, distribute any Christian material with the word “Allah” for her own edification in professing her religion is guaranteed by the Constitution and as such, the Council has the right to regulate or prohibit such materials.
4. That Jill Ireland’s act of using materials with the word “Allah” will cause confusion leading to unrest and public disorder. The act of Jill Ireland in using these materials will contravene Section 298A of the Penal Code and police must be empowered to investigate and seize such material which could pose a threat to security, and arrest the person in possession of those items.
5. The Council has the right to refer such matters to the Shariah courts if any non-Muslim is in possession of materials with the words like “Allah”, “kaabah” and “solat”.
Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, counsel for the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council summarize its case in his submission to the Court of Appeal, saying: “The Council can advise the Agong that it would affect the welfare of Muslims if non-Muslims are allowed to use the word ‘Allah’”.
Jill Ireland’s Reasons To Oppose Intervention Bid
Early this week, Jill Ireland filed her objections, giving the following reasons:
1. The Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council cannot interfere in the private affairs of non-Muslims – on how they pray and study their religions.
2. The subject of the dispute is about her right to religious education and the right to profess her religion, including the use of study materials like CDs, which have nothing to do with the Council.
3. The reference by Council to the Islamic Law Administration Act (Federal Territories) has nothing to do with her right as a Christian to profess and practise her religion. She said in her affidavit: “The Act is only applicable to Muslims in the Federal Territories and my residence in Kuala Lumpur is irrelevant to show it had a right to intervene”.
4. If Council is allowed to intervene, it would only raise irrelevant issues and give the impression that there was a conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims, which is not the case.
5. The Council should have applied to intervene in the High Court when she filed the review application in 2008.
Lim Heng Seng, counsel for Jill Ireland told the Court of Appeal that it was too remote for Council to interfere in this matter. He added: “In any event, the Council can go to Parliament to amend laws. The court is not the right forum to express its concern”.
The Ruling By The Court Of Appeal
This week, 3-man bench of the Court of Appeal chaired by Datuk Tengku Maimum Tuan Mat in an unanimous decision dismissed the application by the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council to intervene in this case. The judge said the Council used the wrong rules in the Rules of Court 2012 to intervene, saying: “It should have gone by Order 53 for judicial review and not relied on Order 15 which is used for civil cases”.
However Datuk Tengku Maimum Tuan Mat said that the Council added that “the Council can make submissions upon invitation by the court” to hold a watching brief.
In 2008, Jill Ireland from Sarawak was transiting in Kuala Lumpur from Indonesia when Home Ministry officials confiscated 8 CDs that had titles like “Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah”, “Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah” and “Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah”.
Jill Ireland contended that these CDs, bought in Indonesia, were for her personal use. She subsequent sought a court order for the return of her CDs, and a declaration that she had a legitimate expectation to exercise the right to use “Allah” and to continue to own and import such materials.
Last July High Court Judge Datuk Zaleha Yusof ordered the return of the CDs to Jill Ireland, but the judge did not address her request for a declaration on her constitutional rights to use the word “Allah”. This word “Allah” is widely used by Christians in Sabah and Sarawak for “God”.
The case is scheduled for hearing on April 23 this year.
Think About It
How important was it for the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council to intervene in this case? Now that it failed, through a technicality, to intervene, does it in any way weaken the government’s appeal against the High Court ruling to return the seized CDs to Jill Ireland? Will the judges make a declaration on Jill Ireland’s appeal for her constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in her worship, and to import study materials with “Allah” in them? Will the Allah controversy end with the outcome of this appeal?
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