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Malaysian Appeals Court Rules Only Muslims May Use the Word “Allah”
On Monday, a Malaysian appeals court ruled that a Christian newspaper may not use the word “Allah” to refer to God. The unanimous decision of an all-Muslim panel overturned a 2009 ruling by a lower court of the country that allowed Malay-language versions of newspapers to use the word “Allah” to refer to God. “Allah” has been used in Malay-version Christian newspapers and communications to refer to God for centuries.
However, chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali observed in the ruling “The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity … Such usage, if allowed, will inevitably cause confusion within the community.”
Expressing their dissatisfaction with the Catholic newspaper, the panel observed in its ruling, “we find no reason why the respondent is so adamant to use the name “Allah” in their weekly publication.”
The appeals court also found that the constitutional rights of the newspaper had not been violated and that “the welfare of an individual or group must yield to that of the community … this is how … “peace and harmony”… is to be read with freedom of religion …”
While the court gave its decision, a crowd of about 200 Muslims outside the court broke out in cheers and raised the call of “Allahu Akbar.”
Lawyers for the Catholic newspaper argued that the word “Allah” was in use before the birth of Islam and had been in extensive use among Malay-speaking Christians for centuries. Stating that the newspaper would appeal against the ruling, Father Lawrence Andrew said, “The nation must protect and support the rights of the minority … God is an integral part of every religion.”
Churches in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak have said they will continue to assert the word “Allah” to refer to God.