In a landmark ruling on Wednesday, the Malaysian High Court granted a Malaysian Christian the right to use the word “Allah” in her religious practice, effectively ending the Home Ministry’s 1986 ban on the use of the word in Christian publications.
Wednesday’s decision ended a long legal battle pursued by Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, a Christian Malaysian, after eight of her educational CDs were seized at an airport for containing the word “Allah” in the title. After pursuing legal action shortly after the aforementioned incident in 2008, the matter has been heard by Malaysian courts on multiple occasions.
In 2014, the Malaysian courts confirmed that the seizure of Bill’s CDs was illegal and the confiscated items were returned to her. However, the court declined to comment on Bill’s argument that her right to use the word “Allah” for education purposes was granted to her based on the freedom of religion and equality before the law conferred by Article 11 of the Malaysian Constitution.
High Court Justice Nor Bee Ariffin held that the 1986 ban exceeded the constitutional powers afforded to the government. While the Ministry had originally declared that the ban was to mitigate a threat to public order, the High Court Justice ruled that Bill’s constitutional freedom to religion was upheld and protected even in the face of a threat to public order.
While the original decision was to be delivered in 2018, negotiation disputes and a nation-wide COVID-19 lockdown meant that the final judgment was continuously delayed. During this time, tensions between Muslim and Christian communities escalated with Muslim groups claiming exclusive use of the word, and Christian communities emphasizing the shared nature of the term.
The landmark ruling is expected to have consequences for other similar ongoing legal proceedings in Malaysia, namely Sidang Injil Borneo Church v. Home Ministry, where the Home Ministry seized Christian books owned by the Borneo Evangelical Church that contained the word “Allah.” As it stands, the Home Ministry has not declared whether they will appeal the High Court’s decision.