Cabinet in 1986 had allowed use of “Allah” with conditions – Judge

By S. Harrish

THE government under Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1986 had allowed Christians to use “Allah” in their publications with the condition that it must state “For Christians Only” on the front page of such materials.

The recent High Court ruling that the government’s ban on the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims revealed that the Cabinet came out with the policy decision in May 1986.

According to a FMT report, Judge Nor Bee Ariffin said this could also be seen in a note by then deputy prime minister Abdul Ghafar Baba to the home ministry.

The May 16, 1986 note stated “Allah”, “Kaabah”, “Baitullah” and “Solat” generally could be used by Christians provided the condition was met.

However, on Dec 5, 1986, a ministry official, Hassan Jantan on behalf of the secretary-general, issued a directive to all Christian publications that the four words were totally banned.

Hassan had said that state religious councils too had a say in this matter as Islam came under their jurisdiction.

Nor Bee said it was on this directive that the home minister Syed Hamid Syed Jaafar Albar (2008-2009) had affirmed an affidavit in support of the ministry’s argument to ban Sarawakian Jill Ireland from using the word “Allah”.

“In the circumstances, the impugned directive then must mirror the cabinet’s policy decision.

She said that after looking at all the evidence produced in the proceedings, she had serious doubts if the cabinet’s policy decision was incorporated in the impugned directive as there appeared to be marked discrepancies between them.

“In my view, on a true and proper construction of the PM’s (Mahathir) letter and the DPM’s (Ghafar) note, the cabinet’s policy decision did not impose a total ban on the four words. “The impugned directive did,” the judge said.

“For reasons best known only to the Publication Control Division of the Home Ministry, and which remains unexplained, the clear words on the DPM’s note with regard to the use of the four words that ought to have been taken into account was wholly disregarded and substituted with the imposition of a total prohibition,” she said.

The judge noted there may not even be this judicial review proceeding if the Cabinet’s policy decision was correctly, properly and validly carried into effect by using the appropriate law under the charge of the home ministry.

“The law is only to check on undesirable publications. It is not a general law to check on public order, public health and morality,” she said, adding that the ministry had acted unreasonably, illegally and irrationally.