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Ruling to allow Christians to use ‘Allah’ challenged by Malaysian government

26 March 2021

ALAMY

The Coat of Arms of Malaysia on a High Court building in George Town last May

The Coat of Arms of Malaysia on a High Court building in George Town last May

A RULING from the High Court in Malaysia, which says that Christians can use the word “Allah” to refer to God, is to be challenged by the government, prolonging a decades-long battle.

The High Court earlier this month overturned a government ban on Christians’ using the word “Allah” to refer to God, in a case brought by a Christian, Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, after her CDs were seized at an airport in 2008, as it was found that they contained the word.

Although Malaysia is majority-Muslim, Christian communities are the third largest religious group in the country. They have argued that they have used the word “Allah” to refer to God for centuries, but challenges over their use of it have previously sparked violence and unrest.

Ms Bill launched a legal challenge against the 1986 ban on Christians’ using the word in publications, arguing that it infringed on her right to practise her religion. Last week, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled that she had the right not to face discrimination on the grounds of her faith.

The judge, Justice Nor Bee, also ruled that other words of Arabic origin — Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine in Mecca; baitullah, which means House of God; and salat, which means prayer — could also be used by Christians.

But, last week, the government confirmed that it was appealing against the ruling, after protests at the court’s decision by some Muslims.

In a separate case in 2009, a local Roman Catholic newspaper, The Herald, sued the government after it said that it could not use the world in its Malay-language edition to describe the Christian God.

When a lower court ruled in favour of The Herald, tensions between Christians and Muslims spilled over into attacks on churches and mosques. But, in 2013, the Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s ruling and reinstated the ban.

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