11/12/2008, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Evangelical Church goes to court against ban on using the word "Allah"

The Evangelical Church of Malaysia has appealed to the supreme court following the recall of some of its magazines, in which the word "Allah" was used. The domestic security minister claims that "the publications can raise confusion and controversy in Malaysian society." Already at the beginning of the year, Catholics and Evangelicals had suffered the confiscation of newspapers and magazines for the same reason.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - The Evangelical Church of Borneo has filed a motion against the ban on using the word "Allah" in its publications. Today, pastor Jerry Dusing, president of the Church, also known in Malaysia as the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB), is scheduled to testify at the supreme court.

The affair that is moving to Jalan Duta today began at the start of last summer. On August 15, three boxes containing publications produced in Indonesia by the SIB were sent to Malaysia to be distributed in Sunday schools organized by the Evangelical Church. Once they arrived in Sepang, the boxes were confiscated by employees of the Malaysia's interior security ministry (ISM). One month later, pastor Jerry Dusing received a letter from the ISM, in which the minister told him that Christian publications containing the word "Allah" could not be distributed in the country. Among the reasons given for the ban, the letter said that "the publications can raise confusion and controversy in Malaysian society."

In response, the SIB wrote to the minister on September 24, reminding him that the prime minister of the previous government, Mahathir bin Mohamad, had granted the use of the word in Christian publications as well. This exchange of letters gave rise to a controversy that has also brought a statement from the head of the ISM, according to which the ban of the use of the word "Allah" in Christian publications has been reinstated. The only exception is for the Bible, and for the use of the term during religious celebrations.

The confiscation of magazines published by the SIB is not the first case. In December of 2007, the ISM had blocked magazines for the same reason, but released them again at the end of January. A similar incident took place with the Catholic community, again in December, with a ban on the use of the word "Allah" in the pages of the weekly newspaper of the archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur. For "reasons of security," the Herald had to stop using the word, or face being shut down. Following the government's order, various shipments of Christian books were confiscated, and the archdiocese decided to take the government to court. The Catholic Church defended its position by appealing to articles 10 and 11 of the constitution, which guarantee freedom of expression and religious practice.

In Malaysia, almost 50% of the population is Muslim, the Christians are about 8%, but there are also Hindu and Buddhist communities, and it is estimated that more than 20% of the inhabitants practice popular religions of Chinese tradition. There are two parallel judicial systems in the country: one federal-civil, regulated by the constitution, and one religious-juridical, which applies only to Muslims and is regulated by Koranic law. In the confusion generated by this parallelism, there is plenty of room for discrimination toward the faithful of religions different from Islam. There are frequent cases of banned conversions or forced conversions, and prohibitions like the ones applied to the SIB and the Catholics of Kuala Lumpur.

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