Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - Malaysia's Court of Appeal dismissed a request by Catholic leaders to dismiss an appeal filed by the government against a 2009 High Court decision allowing the use of the word Allah in Christian media.
The three-member bench of justices issued their ruling after a morning of deliberation, saying that appeal hearings would start 10 September to resolve the dispute between The Herald, a Malaysian Catholic weekly, and the Home Ministry.
With scores of Muslims waiting outside for the ruling, Court of Appeal Justice Datuk Abu Samah said the matter "is still a live issue and the controversy has yet to be resolved. Thus we dismiss this application", this despite a ten-point letter issued by Prime Minister Najib Razak on 11 April 2011, allowing Bahasa Malaysia Bibles to use the word Allah.
For the justice, "It is a drastic action to strike out an appeal that has been properly filed before this court and to deny the appellants the right to an appeal". In fact, the government insists that the Arabic word "Allah" should be for the exclusive use of Muslims.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur expressed fear that the controversy could trigger possible violence, fed by vitriolic statements from Islamist movements.
"Many of these claims," Catholic leaders note, "are fomenting racial clashes and creating religious tensions in the country." People should wait until "justice takes its course," they said. for their part, the authorities should "take the necessary measures to prevent violence."
The controversy over the use of the name "Allah" for the Christian God in the media and books, like the Bible, in Bahasa Malaysia broke out in 2008, when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke The Herald's license to publish. In response, Catholic Church leaders sued the government for violating rights enshrined in the Constitution.
In 2009, the High Court granted Catholics the right to use the term "Allah", a ruling that shocked and angered Muslims, who consider the word exclusive to Islam.
This was followed by a wave of violence with attacks and improvised explosive devices used against churches and other places of worship.
In an attempt to stem the tide and appease extremist Islamists, the Malaysian government decided to appeal the High Court ruling.
Malaysia, a Southeast Asian nation of some 28 million with a Muslim majority, Christians are the third largest religious group (after Buddhists) with about 2.6 million members.
When a 400-year-old Latin-Malay dictionary was recently republished, it showed that the word "Allah" was used from the start to name the biblical God in the local language.