Verdict on use of ‘Allah’ by October
The dispute has been on since 2008, following a government order banning the use of the word ‘Allah’ in the Bible and Christian publication and media.
Malaysia’s Court of Appeal would give its verdict by October on non-Islamists using the word Allah to denote God, Chief Judge Apnadi Mohd Ali said on Tuesday. The dispute arose following the use of ‘Allah’ in Christian publications.
The Interior Ministry and the Government had appealed in defence of the Muslims’ interests against a 2009 court order in favour of Malaysian Catholic Church and Christians.
The Government Counsel stated that the ban on the use of the word is justified by the ‘religious sensitivity’ of the matter in a Muslim majority nation. The lawyer representing the Archdiocese quoted the constitutional rights of ‘religious practice for all without constraints or restrictions’ as cited in Article 11 to defend the case.
Political analysts are concerned that Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose influence is diminishing according to the recent election results, is using the dispute to garner votes by pleasing the Islamist fringe.
Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of Herald, maintained optimism: "We are working on the merits of the case and we hope for a solution." He recalled the legislative decree that allowed the use of the word for non-Muslims, as was the case in the Malay-language editions of the Bible.
The dispute has been on since 2008, following a government order banning the use of the word ‘Allah’ in the Bible and Christian publication and media; the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the Catholic weekly The Herald's license to publish.
The Catholic Church challenged the government order saying it violated constitutional rights. It argued that Christians of Sabah and Sarawak have used the word ‘Allah’ for generations without problems, as has the Catholic weekly for 14 years.
In 2009, the High Court granted Catholics the right to use the term ‘Allah’. The ruling shocked and angered Muslims; a wave of violence followed, with attacks against churches, before the Malaysian government’s decision to appeal against the High Court ruling.
Among Malaysia’s 28 million people, Christians make 2.6 million. When a 400-year-old Latin-Malay dictionary was recently republished, it showed the word ‘Allah’ as used to denote the biblical God in the local language.