The insertion of the words 'in peace and harmony' into Article 3(1) of the federal constitution should be interpreted as the need to protect the sanctity of Islam as the main religion of the country and to insulate it against any probable threats, reasoned a senior judge.
Newly-elevated Federal Court judge Justice Mohamed Apandi Ali (left) said the insertion was a by-product of the social contract entered into by the nation's founding fathers.
"It is my judgment that the most possible and probable threat to Islam, in the context of this country, is the propagation of other religions to the followers of Islam," he said in his 43-page judgment in the case involving the Malay edition of Catholic weekly The Herald .
"That is the very reason as to why Article 11(4) of the federal constitution came into place."
He, along with Justices Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahim and Mohd Zawawi Salleh of the Court of Appeal, had unanimously allowed the government's appeal to overturn a 2009 Kuala Lumpur High Court decision on the use 'Allah' by the publication.
Article 3(1), Justice Apandi said, has a chequered history as it was not part of the draft proposed by the Reid Commission, and was only inserted after objections, negotiations, discussions and consensus from all stakeholders.
The article reads: 'Islam is the religion of the federation but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the federation'
Lawyers for the church had argued that the home minister's ban on 'Allah' in the Malay edition of The Herald was against the spirit of this article.
Article 11(1) says every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and, subject to Clause (4) - which refers to state law - to propagate it.
In the Federal Territories, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among Muslims.
Noting that freedom can never be absolute, Justice Apandi ruled that the alleged infringement by the home minister in not allowing the use of 'Allah' can be negated.
"Freedom cannot be unfettered, otherwise like absolute power, it can lead to chaos and anarchy. Freedom of religion, under Article 11(1) ... is subjected to Article 11(4) and is to be read with Article 3(1)."
Justice Apandi also pointed out that the word 'Allah' does not appear in the old and new Testaments.
"In the Bible, God has always been known as 'Yahweh'. That being the historical fact, it can be concluded the word 'Allah' is not an integral part of the faith and Christianity practice, in particular that of the Roman Catholic Church," he said.
"Due recognition must be given to the names given by their respective Gods in their respective holy books such as 'Yahweh' in the holy Bible, Allah in the holy Quran and Vishnu the God of the holy Vedas."
Justice Abdul Aziz, concurring with Justice Apandi, said the cabinet had in 1986 outlawed the use of 'Allah' and three other terms to religions other than Islam, on the basis of potential harm to public order and safety.
In his 34-page judgment, he said the KL High Court judge who had allowed the Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop's application did not appear to appreciate this concern.
"There were attacks on churches and mosques recorded and this was deposed in the three affidavits filed after the High Court's decision for the purpose of this appeal.
"These affidavits by journalists who covered the events was not objected by the respondents (the Archbishop). Therefore, I am of the view that the government has reasonable basis for exercising the discretionary power to impose the condition.
"I am also of the view that it is not unreasonable for the government to take into consideration the special position of Islam as the religion of the federation."
In his 25-page judgment, Justice Mohd Zawawi agreed that 'Allah' is not essential to or an integral part of Christianity.
"Therefore, the word does not attract a constitutional guarantee of Article 11(1) of the federal constitution. The question of translating God as 'Allah' is still being hotly debated among Christians worldwide.
"Allah is a proper name and the only God in Islam," he said, going on to recite the Al-Ikhlas chapter of the Quran.
Justice Mohd Zawawi said if the word 'Allah' is to be employed in the Malay versions of The Herald to refer to God, there will be a risk of misrepresentation of God within Christianity itself.
This he said was because the Christian conception of God as symbolised by the Trinity is absolutely and completely dissimilar to the concept of Allah in Islam.
"In other words, the potential for confusion is not confined only to Muslims but also to Christians," he said.
He said 'Allah' had been used in Malay translations of the Bible in 1912 and 1988 to replace 'Yahweh'; in the Biatah translation used in Sarawak; and in the Tausug translation in Jolo, Philippines.
"However, the completely revised Malay(-language) Bible of 1996 restored the practice of translating 'Elohim' as 'Allah'," he said.
"It was said that this was at the advice of Malaysian church leaders who considered the translations of 1912 and 1988 as not being exegetically accurate."
Read the judgments in full :
Justice Mohamed Apandi Ali
Justice Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahim
Justice Mohd Zawawi Salleh