Part 1 – Confusion over the Allah controversy

FAR from not appealing against an earlier High Court decision in favour of Jill Ireland, the attorney-general had earlier appealed to the Court of Appeal but the case was sent back to the High Court to look at the constitutional issues Ireland had raised. The controversy dragged on until Dr Mahathir Mohamad became prime minister once again when the Pakatan Harapan (PH) swept into power in the 2018 general election.

According to those familiar with the Allah dispute, the new prime minister appointed a five-member cabinet committee with two ministers from Sabah, one from Sarawak and two from Peninsular Malaysia – one of whom was Muhyiddin Yassin (then the home minister) to work on it. Unfortunately, the Mahathir administration did not last 22 months when Muhyiddin became prime minister through the so-called Sheraton Move.

Muhyiddin, like Mahathir, didn’t last long either and he was replaced by Ismail Sabri  Yaakob. Subsequently, PH swept back into power in the 2022 general election with Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister.

Legal sources said an amicable resolution had finally arrived. Both the Jill Ireland appeal before the Court of Appeal and the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) church of Sabah judicial review pending in the High Court since 2007 were to be withdrawn. The SIB  case arose over the confiscation of their Sunday School materials imported from Indonesia containing the word Allah in them. The sources said an end to litigation would set the course for a non-litigious approach to avoid any public order implications. 

The confusion over the Allah controversy is partly because there were three Allah cases before the court.

The first to be decided was the Catholic archbishop suit in 2007 against the government for not renewing the annual publishing permit for the “Herald” weekly newspaper unless it stopped using the word Allah in its Bahasa Melayu edition to refer to God.

That case went all the way up to the Federal Court where it was stopped in its tracks when leave to appeal on questions on points of law was denied.

The Jill Ireland case was filed in 2008 after the “Herald” and SIB suits. Ireland’s suit against the government arose out of the confiscation of audio compact discs (CDs) belonging to her, which had carried the word Allah in each of the eight titles, when she landed at the Sepang Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) on May 11, 2008 from Jakarta.

Confusion over Ireland’s case is mainly because there have been not one but two High Court judgments and a Court of Appeal judgment involving appeals and cross appeals.

Adding to the confusion are three Islamic councils which sought to intervene in the proceedings. They later withdrew their application to intervene but were allowed to appear as amicus curiae or friend of the court. They are not participants to the proceedings but may be invited to advise on a matter before the court.

But things took a twist for the worse when the Islamic councils and/or their lawyers began making statements to the media. And hell broke loose.

What could have been a resolution in accordance with the rule of law and the Federal Constitution went out the window. – May 25, 2023.

Next: Understanding the Jill Ireland judgments

* Bob Teoh is a retired journalist. He was previously secretary-general of the Confederation of Asean Journalists (1985-87).

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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  • Why are we talking about ownership of words when this didn't originated here in the 1st place. Country like India, where mose civilization and religion originated, no such restrictions. I'm confused when ownership are drawn on blurry's time to wake up....

    Posted 8 months ago by Crishan Veera · Reply