Malaysia Christians still banned from using 'Allah'

The Catholic Church in Malaysia has lost its latest bid to use 'Allah' as a translation for 'God' in its newspaper.

Christians have challenged a ban imposed by the courts on February 26 revoking an earlier ruling on February 16 that allowed the Catholic Church publication, The Herald from using the word ‘Allah’ in a non-Muslim context.

High Court judge Lau Bee Lan made the decision on Thursday after hearing submissions from two counsels for the applicant, Archbishop Datuk Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam, and two counsels for the respondent, the Home Ministry, according to Bernama, Malaysian National News Agency.

Senior Federal Counsel Andi Razalijaya A Dadi for the Home Ministry told reporters outside the chambers that if the High Court allowed the church to use ‘Allah’ in a non-Muslim context, it would be helping the church to commit an offense under state laws.

This means that the church’s weekly news publication, The Herald, cannot use the word until the court decides.

The Rev Father Lawrence Andrew, who edits the Catholic weekly, was disappointed with the outcome.

“We had asked them to lift the ban so that we can use the word until the court decides. We are innocent until proven guilty, so why shouldn’t we use it,” Father Andrew told AFP.

“But they have decided against the case, and to bring forward the hearing,” he said.

“The court is going to hear our case on July 7 so that’s an opening in the dark tunnel.”

Under the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of non-Islamic Religious Enactment passed into law by 10 states in 1988, it is an offence for non-Muslims to use the word ‘Allah’ to refer to any God other than the Muslim God.

The Catholic Church is taking the Home Minister to court to overturn the Home Ministry’s ban, contending that the word does not belong to Muslims alone.

Moreover, the church has been quick to point out, Catholics in Malaysia have been using the word for centuries. Published in four languages, The Herald serves indigenous Malaysians from Sabah and Sarawak, who are mostly Christians and use ‘Allah’ as a translation for God.

Pakiam, who is the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, filed a suit on February 16 to get a declaration from the courts that the church has the right to use the word in print and in church services – the second consecutive year in which he had taken the Home Minister to court to settle the dispute over the word.

This was after the church received a warning to stop from the Home Ministry, which issues the annual printing permit for all publications, to stop using the word, according to The Malaysian Insider.

A legal tussle ensued and in February the government gazetted a law allowing The Herald to use ‘Allah’, only to rescind it shortly after.

The Home Minister then claimed the church’s use of the word in any literature published in BM would confuse the Muslims, who comprise the biggest religious group in the country. Around 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 27 million people are Muslim Malays. The rest of the population includes indigenous tribes as well as ethnic Chinese and Indians, variously practicing Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, among others.