A Roman Catholic newspaper has cleared its first hurdle in a legal battle to force the Malaysian government to reverse a ban against the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims when referring to God.
High Court Judge Lau Bee Lan in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, ruled on May 5 that The Herald weekly newspaper would be able to contest the ban in court. The newspaper is the main publication of the Catholic church in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country.
“The court agreed that the church’s application is not frivolous nor vexatious, nor an abuse of process. It deserves to be heard,” Derek Fernandez, a lawyer for the newspaper, told reporters after the hearing. A trial date is yet to be set.
The newspaper launched the case after a government ministry banned the Malay-language edition of the church newspaper from using the word “Allah” to denote God because it said the word could only be used in conjunction with Islam.
The Herald is asking the courts to overturn the ban and to issue a ruling that the word “Allah” is not exclusively for Muslims. It says the Arabic word “Allah” referred to God even before Islam and that it has been used for centuries as the word for God in the Malay language.
About 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 25 million population is Malay while the rest are mainly ethnic Chinese and Indians who belong mostly to the Christian, Buddhist, Hindus and Sikh faiths.