The Catholic weekly Herald is now free to use the word "Allah" in its publication after the High Court quashed the Home Minister's prohibition against it using the word, declaring the order as "illegal, null and void."
In her decision, Justice Lau Bee Lan also declared that under Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution, applicant Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam had the constitutional right to use "Allah" in the Herald in the exercise of his right that religions other than Islam might be practised in peace and harmony in the country.
She further ruled that the Constitution, which states Islam as the country's religion, did not empower the minister to make such a prohibition.
"In pursuant to Article 10, the applicant also has the right to use the word "Allah" in the Herald in the exercise of his right to freedom of speech and expression," she said in her oral judgment yesterday to a packed courtroom.
Justice Lau ruled as grounds for her judgement that both the respondents - the minister and the Malaysian government - had failed throughout the trial to prove how the use of the word "Allah" could threaten national security.
On Jan 7 last year, the Home Ministry had approved the Herald's publication permit on condition that the usage of the word "Allah" was prohibited and the word "Limited" (Terhad) be endorsed on its front page to mean that it must be circulated only among Christians.
The minister had prohibited the usage on grounds of national security and to avoid misunderstanding and confusion among Muslims.
The Archbishop, as Herald's publisher, had filed an application on Feb 16 for a judicial review to seek a declaration that the minister's decision for the prohibition was illegal and that the word "Allah" was not exclusive to Islam.
Representing the Archbishop were counsels Porres P. Royan and S. Selvarajah while senior federal counsel Datuk Kamaludin Md Said stood for the respondents.
Following the ruling, Kamaludin sought a clarification for the declaration to be only confined for the permit in question, which was for the period from Jan 1 to Dec 31 last year, and not future permits.
"It does not relate to an order or decision relating to future permits," he said, adding that future permits would require a fresh application.
However, Royan argued that the permit for the period between Jan 1 and Dec 31 this year had already been issued, subjected to the same condition pending the court's determination on the matter.
"The order speaks for itself. I believe the minister will be bound by the words he has used and that he will respect the court's decision.
"Of course, they have other remedies. The court has granted declarations to allow the use of the word "Allah" that must bind the parties," he said.
Kamaludin then said he would seek direction from the minister on whether they would file a stay of execution application or an appeal.
In an immediate reaction, Herald's editor Father Andrew Lawrence told the press that this was a "long-awaited" decision, hailing it as a "landmark case for our nation".
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said they would appeal the decision.