Malaysia High Court Allows Christian Use of the Word 'Allah'

The word 'Allah' is Arabic for God. He is the same one God worshiped by Jews, Christians and Muslim.

In Malaysia, the High Court has thrown out a government ban on non-Muslims using the word Allah for God. Those favoring the ban argue Christian use of the word could lead to confusion and conversions among Muslims. 

Malaysia's High Court ruled that a Roman Catholic publication can use the word "Allah". The court said the Home Ministry was incorrect when it banned the non-Muslim publication from using the word.

The Catholic Church's main publication in Malaysia, The Herald, led the legal fight against the ban on behalf of a range of religious and community groups

Under Malaysian law, the home minister has the power to impose conditions on publications. In the case of The Herald, the word Allah was banned, apparently on the grounds of national security - to avoid misunderstanding and confusion among Muslims.

Father Lawrence Andrew is the newspaper's editor and says the word Allah has been part of religious teachings within Christian circles in Malaysia for more than 370 years.

But he says Muslim elements within government are trying to bolster their influence by attempting to assert Islam over the diverse ethnic and religious mix that makes up Malaysia.

"So that's why we say that it not so much a question of language here, it is also a cultural heritage of our Christian people that has been challenged by prohibiting us from using the word Allah," Andrew said.

Nearly 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people are ethnic Malays and Muslims. The bulk of the rest of the population is ethnic Chinese or Indian, most of whom practice Buddhism, Christianity or Hinduism.

The minorities have complained that their constitutional right to practice their religions freely has come under threat from the Muslim-dominated government, which denies any discrimination.

Andrew says although it is against the law for any religion to interfere with the internal affairs of another, Muslim groups try to convert believers of other faiths. Such behavior is questionable under the constitution.

"There have been Malays who came to me and said: 'Father I want to become a Christian - baptize me.' And my answer to them is: 'No way, we will not baptize you. You know the law of the country. We cannot convert you'…. Now this law of the country has been in existence for 50 years, and it is part of the constitution and we wouldn't want to go against this constitution," Andrew said.

In recent years, this country's reputation for religious tolerance has been tarnished.

Malay-language Bibles have been seized and there have been claims of forced conversions to Islam. 

Thursday's decision by the High Court could help to improve that reputation.

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