JAKARTA - On October 14, 2013, an appeals court in Malaysia ruled that non-Muslims would not be allowed to use the word 'Allah.' The court ruled that the designation of 'Allah' was exclusive to Muslims.
The Malaysian court, according to the BBC, reasoned the decision was to avoid public chaos. Meanwhile, Christians in Malaysia argue that they have used 'Allah' to refer to God for centuries. The decision completely violated their rights.
The problem with the mention of 'Allah' stems from the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs in 2007 warning the Catholic weekly newspaper in Malaysia, The Herald, that its publication permit would be revoked if it continued to use the word 'Allah' in its Malay language edition. Since 1986, the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs has banned the use of 'Allah' in non-Muslim publications, citing threats to public order.
Archbishop Murphy Pakiam then initiated court action against the government ban. The court ruled in favor of The Herald in December 2009. However, the Malaysian government appealed. The 2009 ruling also sparked tensions between Muslims and Christians in Malaysia. The tension led to the destruction of churches and mosques.
An appeals court was held on October 14, 2013. The court ruled that non-Muslims were prohibited from using the word 'Allah' to refer to God. Presiding judge Mohamed Apandi Ali said: "The use of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity. The use of the word will cause confusion in society."
Herald editor Reverend Lawrence Andrew said he was disappointed. "This is a step backwards in the development of the law in relation to the fundamental freedoms of religious minorities," he said.
Supporters of the newspaper argued that the Malay-language Bible has used Allah to refer to God since before Malaysia was formed as a federal state in 1963. However, some Muslim groups in Malaysia say that Christians' use of the word Allah is used to encourage Muslims to convert to Christianity.
“Allah is a term in the Middle East and in Indonesia, it is a term for both Christians and Muslims. You can't say that suddenly it's not an integral part. Malay is a language that has a lot of loan words," said Pastor Lawrence Andrew.
On 22 October 2013, Malaysian Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail said in a statement that although the word Allah cannot be used by The Herald and Christians in Malaysia, it can be used in the Malay Bible. "The Malay version of the Bible is meant for Christians and used in churches, while The Herald is a newspaper that can also be accessed online and read by Muslims and non-Muslims alike," he said.
After a legal battle lasting nearly a decade, the Malaysian High Court on Wednesday 10 March 2021 granted Malaysian Christians the right to use the word 'Allah' in their religious practice. The decision overturns the government's ban on Christians using the word 'Allah' in religious publications.
The court also allowed three words to be used in Christian publications for educational purposes: Kaaba, Baitullah, and salat. The court's decision also effectively overturned a 35-year-old circular by Malaysia's Ministry of Home Affairs, which prohibited the use of the word 'Allah' in Christian publications.
According to a report by The States, Christianity is the third largest religion in Malaysia and is practiced by 13 percent of Malaysians - the majority of whom live in the states of Sabah and Sarawak. Malaysian Muslims comprise about 60 percent of the 32 million population.
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