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Home > Uncategorised > Malaysia: Christians allowed to use the word ’Allah’ for ’God’

Malaysia: Christians allowed to use the word ’Allah’ for ’God’

Saturday 9 January 2010, by siawi2


Court declares ’Allah’ ban invalid

Hazlan Zakaria

Dec 31, 09

In a landmark judgment, the Kuala Lumpur High Court presented the Catholic Church a belated Christmas present by ruling that the home ministry’s blanket ban on the use of the word ’Allah’ illegal.
In making the decision to allow the motion by the Catholic Church to set aside the ban, High Court judge Lau Bee Lan stated that the minister’s order is “illegal, null and void”.

She said that Catholic weekly The Herald can use the word ’Allah’ and that the term is not exclusive to Islam.

"Even though Islam is the federal religion, it does not
empower the respondents to prohibit the use of the word."

Justice Lau added that the Home Ministry also failed to substantiate any of its claims of threats to national security which could be caused by the use of the word ’Allah’ by the Herald.

This overturning of the Home Ministry’s earlier ban will open the doors for the Catholic weekly and other non-Islamic publications to use the word ’Allah’ as a direct translation for the word ’God’ in the Malay language versions of their publications.
Justice Lau added that all Malaysians had the constitutional right to use the word ’Allah’ under Article 11 of the federal constitution which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of religion and the practice of it.

The Herald editor Lawrence Andrew (right), met by reporters outside the courtroom fresh from the verdict, said that he was “very happy” with the decision.

However, he stopped short of calling it a victory, saying instead, “We called out for justice and we got it.”

If it is at all a victory, he added, "It is a victory for all Malaysians. This shows that we are truly living in a ’1Malaysia’, not two Malaysias. We can say right now that we
are citizens of one nation.

“’Allah’ is a cherished word, we use in our churches and it is dear to us. It is good that the right to use it has been returned to us,” he said.

He said The Herald would use the word ’Allah’ in its upcoming Sunday edition.

However, given the implication of the case, it is likely that the Home Ministry will appeal against the decision to the higher courts.

Home Ministry may appeal

Deputy public prosecutor Kamaruddin Mohd Said indicated as such when asked by Malaysiakini after the trial, “The court has ruled and we have to respect the decision of the court. However, if it is decided that this issue requires further contention, then we will apply for a stay to the ruling and file an appeal against it.”

He added, “I will have to look at the decision in detail first and consider the inclusion of constitutional rights into the ruling. I will also need to refer back to the Home Ministry and await further instructions.”

Earlier in court, after the judgment was delivered, Kamaruddin (left in photo), who represented the government in the matter, argued that it was only valid for Herald’s 2009 annual publication permit, and the restrictions on the use of the word ’Allah’ contained therein.

He said today’s decision could not affect future permits and a new application for a judicial review would have to be applied for to set aside any similar restrictions contained in the Herald’s future permits.

However, lawyers representing the Herald contended that the home minister’s statement “pending the court’s determination” (when issuing the ban) spoke for itself, taking to mean that the home minister would have to respect the court’s decision when issuing any future permit.

Justice Lau agreed with the Herald’s lawyers saying that the home minister’s statement “speaks volumes” on the matter.

The landmark case, which was supposed to be heard at the Jalan Duta court complex yesterday, had been postponed to today because Lau said she needed more time to consider her decision.

National security vs religious freedom

The Home Ministry had invoked concerns of national security and said that the ban was to avert any confusion that could ensue should non-Islamic publications use the word ’Allah’ as a substitute for ’God’.

The ministry asserted that ’Allah’ was exclusive to Islam as a term for the ’one true God’. Hence, other religions could not use it as a generic term.

The Catholic Church, in filing the judicial review, however disputed this and argued that the word ’Allah’ predates Islam as a generic term for ’God’ and has been in use in many places, even in the Middle East.

It added that in Malaysia, the term ’Allah’ is widely used among indigenous Christian tribes in Sabah and Sarawak.

The church also argued that the ban goes against the principle of freedom of religion and religious practices as outlined in the federal constitution.

The Herald, circulated among the country’s 850,000 Catholics, nearly lost its publishing licence last year for using the word ’Allah’. The paper is printed in four languages, with a circulation of 14,000 copies a week.