Malaysian court bars non-Muslims from using term ‘Allah’

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Oct 18, 2013 / 11:21 am (CNA).- An appeals court in Malaysia has prohibited non-Muslims from using the word “Allah” to refer to deities, even though it is the standard Malay term for “god.”

The Oct. 14 ruling comes in a case relating to The Herald, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.

The court's verdict “violates the right to religious freedom and freedom of expression enshrined in the (Malaysian) constitution,” said Fr. Lawrence Andrew, editor of The Herald.

“It is a retrograde step in the development of law in relation to the fundamental liberty of religious minorities.”

“Allah” is the Malay language equivalent of the English word “god,” and is a loanword from Arabic. Malay is the official language of the country, and Malaysians of all religions use the word; not just Muslims.

The term “Allah” is used around the world by Arab Christians, and has been included in the Malaysian version of the Bible for 400 years.

Father Andrew noted that a Latin-Malaysian dictionary published in 1631 by the forerunner of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which translates “Deus” as “Allah”, establishes “decisive proof of the legitimate use of the word 'Allah' by Christians.”

Despite this, the appeals court said the term belongs exclusively to Muslims and that its use by others could cause public disorder. Some Muslim groups in Malaysia have argued that Christian use of “Allah” could encourage Muslims to convert to Christianity, according to the BBC.

The court's decision stems from a 2009 government decision saying that The Herald could not use “Allah” to refer to God in Christianity. The paper sued, and a court ruled in their favor, but the Malaysian government appealed.

Now that an appellate court has ruled against The Herald, Fr. Andrew said that Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur has given his approval to appeal the ruling to the Malaysian Supreme Court.

The ruling was “influenced by political pressure,” Fr. Andrew claimed.

Though the Malaysian constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Islam is the established religion. More than 60 percent of Malaysians are Muslim, and about 10 percent are Christians.

Fr. Andrew said that “all Malaysian Christians will take part in a prayer vigil in the coming days, praying for peace and religious freedom in Malaysia.”

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