Christians banned from using ‘Allah’, Catholic Church to appeal
“The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity. It will cause confusion in the community,” Chief Judge Mohamed Apandi Ali ruled on behalf of the Court of Appeal.
A Court of Appeal presided over by three Muslim judges on Monday overturned a High Court verdict and ruled that only Muslims could use ‘Allah’ to refer to God.
The High Court had in 2009 ruled in favour of a Catholic newspaper, The Herald Malaysia, to use ‘Allah’ in its Malay language editions, triggering widespread attacks against Christians by extremists Islamic groups. ‘Allah’ has been used by non-Muslims for centuries as it is the only word for ’God’ available in Malay-language.
“The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity. It will cause confusion in the community,” chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali ruled on behalf of the Court of Appeal.
Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur said the Church plans to appeal against the verdict. “We prayed for the minds of the judges to be enlightened, but evidently God's plans were different. In any case we will appeal to the Federal Court to get justice. There is disappointment and concern among the faithful,” he said
Father Lawrence Andrew, Director of the weekly Herald Malaysia, said, “The verdict violates right to religious freedom and freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution. 'Allah' is a term widely used by Arab Christians, all over the world and has been in the Bible in Malaysian language for 400 years.”
Outside the court, around 200 Muslim activists of the Islamic party, Perkasa, greeted the verdict with chants of ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is Great) and waved placards. “As a Muslim, defending the usage of the term Allah qualifies as jihad. It is my duty to defend it," said Jefrizal Ahmad Jaafar, 39. Jihad is Islamic holy war or struggle.
Churches in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak have said they will continue to use the word regardless of the ruling. After the ruling, the Minister of Agricultural Development of Sarawak said that Christians in the area would continue to use ‘Allah’. “Why are we suddenly told we cannot use it?”
The row began in 2008 in Bahasa Malaysia after ‘Allah’ was used in the Bible, media and other Christian books. When the Home Ministry threatened to revoke The Herald Malaysia’s license, the Catholic Church appealed to the High Court against the government’s ‘violation of basic rights’ enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution.
The 2009 High Court ruling favouring Catholics shocked and angered sections of Muslims, who consider the word exclusive to Islam.
A wave of violence against Christians followed, with churches attacked with improvised explosive devices. The Malaysian government decided to appeal against the verdict in the hope of stemming the violence.
Last May’s election saw Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition lose the support of urban voters which included ethnic Chinese of Christian faith, even as the coalition has tried to woo Muslim ethnic Malays, who form 60% of the population.Malaysia has a population of 28 million and Christians number about 2.6 million, the third largest religious group after Buddhists.
Source: AsiaNews & Agenzia Fides