"Allah" banned for use by Christian publication in Malaysia


Muslim Protestors display a banner during a demonstration against a Malaysian Catholic newspaper using the word 'Allah' at the court of appeal in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur on October 14, 2013.


Mohd Rasfan

A court in Malaysia ruled on Monday that a Catholic newspaper could not refer to God as "Allah," in a case that has spanned three years.

The Herald argued in 2009 that the government ban on the use of "Allah" - the Arabic world for God - was unconstitutional.

The challenge to the government's decree was upheld by a court that year and the ban was lifted pending a judicial review. The removal sparked a series of attacks on Christian places of worship in an unusual display of religious tension in the multi-faith country.

The review, presided over by a three-judge panel, decided this week that the government did not act unconstitutionally by banning the use of the word.

"It is our judgment that there is no infringement of any of the constitutional rights," said Apandi Ali, head of the panel.

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"It is our common finding that the usage of the name 'Allah' is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity."

The word "Allah" is commonly used by Christians and Muslims to refer to God both in Malaysia and in Arabic-speaking countries.

The editor of the newspaper said the ruling was flawed and vowed to take the case to the federal court.

"It is also a retrograde step in the development of the law relating to the fundamental liberties of religious minorities in this country," editor Father Lawrence Andrew told reporters.

The ruling is a troubling sign for some that hard-line Islam is becoming more of a political force in the country.

The Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak wrote on his blog: "We are determined, in line with the transformation programmes the government has drawn up, to continue to strengthen the propagation of Islam in the country." 

A protest outside the court during the ruling saw about 150 Muslim activists declaring their support for the government and the ban.

Muslims make up 60 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people. Christians make up nine percent of the population.