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Malaysia: court overturns ban on non-Muslims using word ‘Allah’

The High Court in Kuala Lumpur, has ruled that the national Catholic weekly, 'Herald,' can use the word 'Allah' to refer to God and that the Home Ministry’s order banning its use is illegal.

The court on Thursday also declared that the word 'Allah' is not exclusive to Islam.

“We welcome the court’s decision very much as in the long term it will be not only good for ‘Herald’ but for others as well,” said S Selvarajah, one of a team of four lawyers involved in the Church’s challenge of the ban.

The Home Ministry in 2007 issued a blanket ban on the use of the word 'Allah' in all non-Muslim publications.

Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur, publisher of the 'Herald,' challenged it in a case that began last February.

Selvarajah told UCA News the judge made six declarations, one citing Article 11 of the constitution on the right to religious freedom. “Article 11 states that we have the right to manage our own religious affairs, thus using ‘Allah’ as part of our worship is our right,” the lawyer said.

Bishop Antony Selvanyagam of Penang spoke to UCA News immediately after the decision. “I would like to congratulate the Herald’s lawyers and (Herald editor) Father Lawrence Andrew for their efforts to defend the rights of the Church in this matter,” he said.

Pastor Jerry Dusing, president of the Sabah Evangelical Church of Malaysia and Sabah Council of Churches, said the decision was good for everyone. “We are living in a multi-racial country, thus there must be racial unity and respect among each other,” he said.

The government had argued that the use of the word 'Allah' in Christian publications was likely to confuse Muslims and draw them to Christianity. The Church claimed the ban violates its constitutional rights to practice its religion freely.

Fr Andrew said that the word 'Allah' has been used by Christians in the region to refer to their God for 400 years.

The Malaysian government has said it plans to appeal the decision.

Source: UCAN