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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Religious councils cannot intervene, says Sarawakian on ‘Allah’ challenge

The Federal Territories and Selangor Islamic Religious Councils have no direct interest and are not "proper persons" to intervene on the right of a Sarawakian woman to use the Arabic word "Allah" for "God" in her Christian religious practices.

Jill Ireland, in opposing the application by the councils, said her judicial review before a High Court in Kuala Lumpur only touched on her constitutional right to equality before the law and her freedom to practice her faith.

She said this in affidavits sighted by The Malaysian Insider ahead of the councils' application to be made parties to the judicial review to be heard this Monday.

She said the Federal Territories Islamic Administration Act 2004 and the Selangor Islamic Administration Enactment 2003 only governed Muslims in those jurisdictions.

"As a non-Muslim, I am not governed by the law even though residing in Kuala Lumpur," she said in her affidavits.

She said if the applications were allowed, the parties would raise unnecessary issues and give the impression that there was a conflict between Islam and other religions.

In August last year, the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council (MAIWP) filed an application to intervene in Ireland's judicial review.

The following month, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) made a similar application.

Ireland, a clerk and from the Melanau indigenous tribe, said her rights were infringed following a 1986 Home Ministry order which prohibited the use of the word "Allah" in Christian publications, including in the eight compact discs that were seized from her possession.

The government returned the materials in September following an order by the Court of Appeal.

Ireland, represented by lawyer Annou Xavier, said the order to bar her from being in possession of such materials was enforced through the Printing, Presses and Publications Act 1984.

Ireland said MAIWP could only hold a watching brief to advice the Yang di-Pertuan Agong who is the head of the religion in the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya.

She said a senior federal counsel, who is appearing on behalf of the Attorney-General, could raise the concern of MAIWP.

"This is because the A-G is the chief legal adviser to the Federal government," she said.

Ireland said MAIS's role was to advice the Sultan of Selangor relating to the Islamic religion in the state.

Ireland said the parties were also late in filing the action and had failed to give cogent reasons why the applications were made late, claiming they were filed with the intention of delaying proceedings.

She filed her action against the Home Minister and Putrajaya in August 2008.
On June 23 last year, a three-man Court of Appeal bench chaired by Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat declined to hear Ireland's appeal whether her constitutional right was violated by the government for refusing to allow the use of the

Instead, the bench ordered Ireland's constitutional rights under Article 8 and 11 of the constitution to be decided by a new judge in the High Court.

Ireland filed an appeal to exert her constitutional right to use "Allah" after the government appealed a High Court's ruling to return eight CDs seized at the then low-cost carrier terminal in Sepang in 2008.

In seeking a judicial review against the seizure, Ireland had also asked for a declaration that she had a legitimate expectation to exercise the right to use "Allah" and to continue to own and import such materials.

The word “Allah” is widely used by Christians in Sabah and Sarawak, and groups in the two states said that any ban on its use was a violation of the freedom of religion and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.

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