Malaysia's highest court has rejected a challenge to the ban on Christians using the word Allah to refer to their god, in a highly divisive legal case.
The case was brought by the Catholic Church, which sought to overturn a ban first put in
place in 2007. But the Federal Court said an earlier ruling backing the ban was correct.
The case began over the use of Allah to refer to the Christian god in the Catholic Church's Malay-language paper. Christians argue they have used the
word, which entered Malay from Arabic, to refer to their god for centuries and that the ruling violates their rights.
Malaysian authorities claim its use by Christians could confuse easily confused Muslims and lead some to convert to Christianity.
This ruling was handed down by a seven-member panel, which voted by 4-3 to dismiss the challenge.
Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew said he was greatly disappointed by the judgement which didn't touch on the fundamental rights
of minorities .
Reports in Malaysian newspapers suggested the Church could call for a review of the decision.
Malaysia has banned an Ultraman comic book because it uses the word Allah to describe the Japanese action hero.
The Home Ministry claimed in a statement that the Malay-edition of Ultraman, The Ultra Power contained elements
that can undermine public security and societal morals. It claimed Ultraman is idolised by many children and equating the lead character, Ultraman King, with Allah would especially confuse Muslim children and damage their faith .
government demands that the word Allah should be exclusively reserved for Muslims because of concerns its use by others would confuse Muslims and tempt them to convert. It also warned that use of the word can provoke the community and threaten public
Ultraman is a fictional Japanese superhero who fights monsters and first appeared on television in the 1960s. A line in the book said Ultraman is considered and respected as Allah, or the Elder, to all ultra heroes .
Malaysia should reverse a ban on a Christian newspaper using the word Allah to refer to the christian religious character called God, a UN official said about a decision that fanned religious tension in the mainly Muslim country.
The UN special
rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said in statement:
Freedom of religion or belief is a right of human beings, not a right of the state. It cannot be the business of the state to shape or
reshape religious traditions, nor can the state claim any binding authority in the interpretation of religious sources or in the definition of the tenets of faith.
Catholic weekly The Herald will not be allowed to use the word Allah to refer to the Christian God, ruled the Court of Appeal.
The panel, chaired by Justice Mohamed Apandi Ali, overturned a High Court decision and unanimously ruled in favour of
the Government's appeal, saying that the minister had not acted in any way that required a judicial review.
The court also found that there had been sufficient material considered by the minister in taking action under the Printing Presses and
Publications Act 1984. The Judgement reads:
Our common finding is that the usage of Allah is not an integral part of the Christian faith. We cannot find why the parties are so adamant on the usage of the word.
The court claimed that such usage of the word would cause confusion and that in the interest of supposed public safety, chose to grant the Government's appeal.
The welfare of an individual or group must yield to the interest of
society at large, said Justice Mohamed Apandi, adding that this should be read alongside the constitutional freedom of religion.
The weekly, published in four languages, has been using the word Allah as a translation for God in
its Malay-language section, but the Government argued that Allah should be used exclusively only by Muslims.
The Catholic Church in Malaysia has lost its latest bid to use 'Allah' as a translation for 'God' in its newspaper pending a further court case now set for 7th July 2009.
High Court judge Lau Bee Lan made the decision after hearing submissions
from two counsels for the applicant, Archbishop Datuk Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam, and two counsels for the respondent, the Home Ministry, according to Bernama, Malaysian National News Agency.
A spokesmand for the Home Ministry told reporters
outside the chambers that if the High Court allowed the church to use ‘Allah' in a non-Muslim context, it would be helping the church to commit an offense under state laws. This means that the church's weekly news publication, The Herald, cannot use the
word until the court decides.
The Rev Father Lawrence Andrew, who edits the Catholic weekly, was disappointed with the outcome: We had asked them to lift the ban so that we can use the word until the court decides. We are innocent until proven
guilty, so why shouldn't we use it, Father Andrew told AFP: The court is going to hear our case on July 7 so that's an opening in the dark tunnel.
Under the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of non-Islamic Religious Enactment
passed into law by 10 states in 1988, it is an offence for non-Muslims to use the word ‘Allah' to refer to any God other than the Muslim God.
A Malaysian court hearing the appeal by an evangelical church to use the word "Allah" in its Sunday School materials has been adjourned to next month.
The Evangelical Church of Borneo, otherwise known as SIB (Sidang Injil Borneo), and
its president Pastor Jerry Dusing filed the appeal at the High Court against the Internal Security Ministry and the Malaysian Government.
The hearing will resume on November 12.
On August 15 last year, SIB was preparing to bring in three
cartons containing six different publications from Indonesia to be used as Sunday School materials when they were withheld by a customs officer and later handed over to the Internal Security Ministry (ISM.
Nearly a month later, Dusing received a
letter from the ISM stating that the import of the publications had been denied, that Christian publications containing the word “Allah” cannot be distributed in Malaysia. The letter also stated that the publications can raise confusion and
controversy in Malaysian society.
In response the church sent an appeal letter dated September 24 to the minister, stating that the previous prime minister had allowed the use of the word “Allah” in their publications.