IN Malaysia, a court has ruled that non-Muslims – and specifically a Christian newspaper – cannot use the word Allah to refer to God, even in their own faiths.
The unanimous decision by three Muslim judges in Malaysia’s appeals court overturned a 2009 ruling by a lower court that allowed the Malay language version of the newspaper the Herald to use the word Allah – as many Christians in Malaysia say has been the case for centuries.
“The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity,” chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali said in the ruling. “The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community.”
The Government argued in the case that the word Allah is specific to Muslims and that the then-home minister’s decision in 2008 to deny the newspaper permission to print it was justified on the basis of public order.
Lawyers for the Catholic paper had argued that the word Allah predates Islam and had been used extensively by Malay-speaking Christians in Malaysia’s part of Borneo island for centuries. They say they will appeal to Malaysia’s highest court.
About 200 Muslims outside the court in the administrative capital Putrajaya greeted the decision with shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest).
Christians in Indonesia and much of the Arab world use the word without opposition from Islamic authorities. Churches in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak have said they will continue to use the word regardless of the ruling.