High Court authorises Christians to use the word Allah
The dispute has dragged on for decades with a legal battle that has lasted over 10 years. For the High Court, the Home Ministry exceeded its powers when it issued a rule contrary to the constitution. “Religious freedom is absolutely protected even in times of threat to public order," a judge said.
Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – After a legal battle that lasted more than 10 years, the Malaysian High Court ruled today that the country's Christians can use the word "Allah" for God in their prayers, texts and religious services.
The verdict overturns a long-running ban and puts an end to a dispute that has dragged on for more than 30 years, with the government siding with Islamic extremists in favour of the prohibition.
The court sanctioned the use of three words in Christian publications for educational purposes: Kaabah (Islam’s sacred shrine in Makkah), Baitullah (House of God) and Solat (prayer).
Thirteen years after the court case began, Justice Nor Bee Ariffin granted Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, a Christian originally from Sarawakian, the constitutional right to use the word "Allah" for her religious practices.
The issue reached a courtroom after the authorities in 2008 seized eight educational compact discs she was carrying when she landed in an airport back from Indonesia.
In 2014, the Court declared the seizure unlawful and the material was returned to Lawrence Bill the following year, while the question of the use of the word remained unresolved.
The ruling, expected at first in 2018, was postponed several times. Meanwhile, the parties sought, in vain, to settle out of court before proceedings were brought to halt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The court ruling also quashes a Home Ministry circular banning the use of Allah in Christian publications, on public order considerations.
For the court, the Ministry exceeded its powers and violated the constitution. “Religious freedom is absolutely protected even in times of threat to public order,” the judge said.
The government has not yet said whether it plans to appeal the ruling.
Several controversial episodes have marked the affair over the years. Some 300 Bibles were seized in January 2014. In October 2013 the Court of Appeal ruled that Catholic weekly Herald could use the word Allah for the Christian God.
About 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 28 million people are Muslim. Christians are the third largest religious group (after Buddhists) with more than 2.6 million members.
A 400-year-old Latin-Malay dictionary shows that the word Allah was already in use in the local language.