A Malaysian appeals court on Monday ruled that non-Muslims cannot use the word Allah to refer to God, overruling the claims by Christians in Muslim-dominant country that the restriction violates their religious rights.
“Allah”, an Arabic word for God used mainly by Muslims, was commonly used in Malay language to refer to God without any religious discrimination before government proscribed the non-Muslims from using it, insisting that the word should be exclusively earmarked for Muslims because its use by the others would confuse the Muslims and could be used to convert them.
Today’s verdict by Court of Appeals in administrative capital Putrajaya overturns the decision of a lower court in 2009 that ruled against the government ban. The ruling had sparked the religious tensions between Muslims and the minority communities that led to the attacks on dozens of worship places.
Hundreds of observant Muslims flocked outside the court and hailed the decision with shouts of “Allahu Akbar”.
The Christian, Buddhist and Hindu minorities have often blamed government of infringing their constitutional right to practice their religions freely. The government declines the accusations.
Christians, who encompass 9.2% of the total 2.8 billion population of the country, argue that they had been using the word “Allah” in Malay for many decades and that the ruling violates their rights.
The controversy sparked after the government prohibited The Herald, an international Catholic newspaper, from using the word in its Malay-language edition to describe Christian God. The publication, sued the government over ban and a lower court ruled in their favor in December 2009. The government challenged the decision in Court of Appeals.
Announcing the judgment today, Chief Judge Mohamed Apandi, who headed a three-member appeals court panel, remarked that allowing non-Muslims to use the word would cause confusion in the community.
“It is our judgment that there is no infringement of any constitutional rights” in the ban, he said. “We could find no reason why the newspaper is so adamant to use the word `Allah’ in their weekly. Such usage if allowed will inevitably cause confusion within the community.”
The Herald editor Reverend Lawrence Andrew expressed disappointment over the decision and announced to appeal against the ruling in the country’s apex Malaysia Federal Court.
The lawyers of publications argued that the Malay-language Bibles have used Allah to describe the Christian God since before the formation of Malaysia as a federal state in 1963.
However, the hardline Muslim groups emphasize that the usage of word Allah by Christians could be used to decoy Muslims to convert to Christianity.
It is worth mentioning that the Christians in Indonesia, world’s largest Muslim population, most of the Arab word and South Asian Muslim nations use the word without objection from the Islamic authorities.