Malaysia: Jill Ireland Case on ‘Allah’ Far from Over

March 19, 2015 by Janelle P in General

The Court of Appeal rejected on March 5th the application of the Federal Territories Islamic Council to intervene in Jill Ireland’s case. Though this decision was welcomed, this case is far from over. The next court date in April will hear the appeal by the Home Ministry against the court decision to return Jill’s confiscated Christian CDs and also a cross-appeal by Jill on her constitutional religious right to use the word ‘Allah’.

Jill, a 33-year old Christian from Sarawak, east Malaysia, is seeking for the return of her eight religious CDs, which she had bought in Indonesia but were confiscated by airport Customs officers in 2008. The reason for the confiscation: the CDs contained the word ‘Allah’, which Christians are banned from using. The word ‘Allah’ refers to God in Bahasa Malay, the national language.

‘Allah’ is one of 16 Bahasa Malay religious words that were banned by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1986 on the basis that these words, allegedly, can cause confusion among Muslims. Subsequently, it was reduced to 4 words, with ‘Allah’ being the most contentious.

Besides this case, there is another constitutional challenge brought by the Evangelical Church of Borneo (SIB) against the government, seeking to amend existing laws, directives or orders pertaining to the prohibition of certain religious terms by non-Muslims.

President of SIB Sarawak, Rev. Dr. Justin Wan, argued that such prohibition has far-reaching effects on churches affiliated with SIB and their congregation, where 95 percent of its members worship and pray in their native languages or Bahasa Malay. “Usage of the word has become part of us and is deeply embedded and entrenched in the religious practices, cultures and languages of our churches and its members,” he said.

The indigenous Christians of East Malaysia have been using ‘Allah’ to refer to God for 150 years since the first missionaries arrived on its soil. They have also been using it in the Alkitab, the Bahasa Malay/Indonesia translation of the Holy Bible. They also use it in their worship, prayers, devotions, Bible study and many other activities.

Wan pointed out that the ‘Allah’ ban goes deeper than just stopping them from using it; it is taking away the believers’ means of obtaining hope, spiritual strength and sense of purpose. “In a sense, the prohibition takes away from us most of the important things in our lives,” he added. Now that the Catholic Church had lost their seven year battle in the courts for the right to use the word ‘Allah’ in its Herald publication, both these cases—Jill Ireland and the SIB case—will take the spotlight among Malaysian Christians to see whether the government and the judiciary will respect and uphold the religious freedom of the minorities, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

Christians in Malaysia make up 9.2 percent of the population. Native Christians who speak and worship in Bahasa Malay, and are thus affected by the ‘Allah’ ruling, account for 60 percent of Malaysian believers. Though embracing Islam as its official religion, Malaysia is a secular nation.

Malaysia is ranked No. 37 on the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.

Compiled by Janelle Powers. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Katie Rouse at 678-410-9575

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