PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court has reserved judgement in the leave application by Catholic weekly Herald to challenge the Home Ministry over the ban on the use of the word “Allah”.
Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria said the seven-man panel would reserve judgement on the application after hearing submissions by the parties involved.
With him on the panel were Court of Appeal president Justice Raus Sharif, Chief Judge of Malaya Justice Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Justice Richard Malanjum and Federal Court judges Justices Suriyadi Halim Omar, Zainun Ali and Jeffrey Tan.
This is the first time that such a large panel has sat to hear and determine the application for leave, perhaps reflecting the importance and sensitivity of the case.
The publisher – Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur – had posted 28 administrative law, constitutional law and general questions to get leave from the apex court for deliberation.
The applicant’s lead counsel Datuk Dr Cyrus V.Das argued that the issues raised in the proceedings were of public importance and should be decided by the apex court.
He claimed that there was ambiguity created by the Court of Appeal’s judgment in ruling that the Catholic weekly would not be allowed to use the word in the Bahasa Malaysia edition of the Herald.
Dr Das argued that there was uncertainty over the provision of law pertaining to the Minister’s power in issuing the prohibition order over the use of the word in the publication.
He also argued that the Herald had been using the word for 14 years without any previous problems or incidents.
He submitted that the finding by the Court of Appeal that the use of word is not an essential and integral part of the Christian faith has widespread ramifications and would create anxiety and uncertainty especially in the bumiputra Christian community of East Malaysia and Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christian congregations in Peninsula Malaysia.
Senior Federal Counsel Suzana Atan, from the Attorney-General’s Chambers argued that the publisher had failed to show the merits of the appeal and if leave was allowed by the court.
“The law is clear in that cases of national security, such matters should not be made subject of evidence in a court of law or otherwise discussed in public,” she said.
SFC Suzana submitted that as the matter concerns judicial review of a minister’s decision based on national security and public order, the constitutional law questions would not reverse the decision while administrative questions should be dismissed by the court as it did not fall within the principle of law.
“The decision of the Court of Appeal is based on the discharge of the minister’s function and statutory power under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984,” she said.
She said the general questions posed to the court were not relevant as they were not issues before the Court of Appeal.
Lawyer Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah, who acted for Majlis Agama Islam & Adat Melayu Terengganu, argued that the minister had acted in the best interest of nation to impose the ban.
“If national security, the court cannot second guess the minister. The minister is not acting unreasonable or illegal or unrationally,” he added.
Lawyer Mubashir Mansor, who acted for Federal Territories and Selangor Islamic Religious Councils, argued that the minister had no rights to allow the use of the word and that only the rulers have the power to do so.
Lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla, who appeared for Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association, argued that the court should not grant leave for academic purposes for discussion over the questions.
“The court should not waste time to answer interesting questions. Even the prayer books do show the use of the word. The prayer books show there is interchangeable use of word Tuhan,” he argued.
The Court of Appeal had on Oct 14 last year ruled that the Catholic weekly, Herald, would not be allowed to use the word “Allah” to refer to the Christian God.
The minister and Government had appealed against the Dec 31, 2009 High Court decision in quashing the minister’s ban order.
The Catholic Church had sought, among others, a declaration that the decision by the Home Ministry on Jan 7, 2009, prohibiting the use of the word “Allah” in theHerald was illegal and that the word “Allah” is not exclusive to the religion of Islam.