The Catholic Church is gearing up for an expected tough fight Wednesday at Malaysia’s highest court when it argues for the right to appeal a lower court decision banning it from using the word “Allah” in its newspaper.
The lower court ruled the word is exclusive to Muslims, who make up the majority of the country. The church counters that it wants to use “Allah” for its Malaysian Malay-speaking members, who for generations have used the word to refer to the Christian “God.”
The decision – which could come on the same day or within weeks — will have far-reaching implications for religious minorities and the news media in the generally moderate Malaysia, where conservative Muslims have been asserting themselves. Christians argue that, while Islam is the country’s official religion, the federal constitution extends significant protections and rights to religious minorities.
Analysts say that if the ban is enforced, it would violate the religious freedom of Malay-speaking Christians, who use the word “Allah” in their worship. According to the Christian Federation of Malaysia, 64% of Christians in Malaysia have no other language for their Bible, prayer and worship except for Bahasa Malaysia.
“For Bahasa-speaking Christians, the word ‘Allah’ is fundamental. If you are banned from using the word ‘Allah,’ then what is there left for you to practice in your religion?” said Mr. Ng Kam Weng, the research director of Kairos Research Centre, a Christian think tank in Malaysia that supports allowing Christian churches to use the word “Allah.” “Christians cannot correctly represent their faith in the media. They are denied the public instrument for expression of their faith.”