11/25/2008, 00.00
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Islamic councils against Catholic magazine of Kuala Lumpur: forbidden to use the word "Allah"

The Islamic religious councils of seven Malaysian states are joining the lawsuit pitting the weekly of the diocese of Kuala Lumpur against the government. The object of the dispute is the use of the word "Allah" in non-Muslim publications. The Sikh community is siding with the Catholics.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - The Islamic religious councils of seven Malaysian states and the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (MACMA) are turning to the federal court for the ban of the use of the word "Allah" in the weekly Catholic Herald. Muslim representatives from Terengganu, Penang, Selangor, Kedah, Johor, Malacca, and the Federal territory of Kuala Lumpur want the court to rule on whether the law relative to the case has been applied according to constitutional principles.

The Malaysian constitution guarantees full religious freedom for all confessions, but an ordinance from the interior security ministry issued in 1986 prohibits the use of the word "Allah" in publications of the non-Islamic communities. But the law has never been applied consistently. To complicate the case of the Herald, and of other non-Muslim magazines, there is also the fact that there are two parallel judicial systems in the country: one is federal-civil, regulated by the constitution, and the other is juridical-religious, which is supposed to apply only to Muslims and is regulated by Koranic law.

The affair of the magazine of Kuala Lumpur emerged in December of last year. The interior security minister had prohibited the Herald from using the word "Allah" in its articles, affirming that its use "by non-Muslims could increase tension and create confusion among Muslims in the country." The ban brought the risk of shutdown for the only Catholic newspaper in the country, which with its 12,000 copies and 50,000 readers is the only instrument of communication for the 850,000 faithful.

In the last few days of 2007, after the protests of the Catholic community, the interior security minister withdrew the injunction, but on January 5, 2008, the minister of Islamic affairs intervened in of the affair, upholding the ban. Claiming the right to use the word "Allah," the Herald then opted to take the legal route, and the archbishop of the diocese of Kuala Lumpur, Murphy Pakiam, took the government to court (in the photo, the bishop with his lawyers at a hearing last April).

Today, the seven states and the MACMA have been admitted to the court to intervene in the dispute, and have been named as parties in the case in the revision of the procedure initiated by the archbishop of the capital. In the meantime, the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council (MGC), a Sikh group, has informed the court that it intends to present the attorney general's office with documentation that would exclude the Islamic councils from the debate.

According to the documentation from the MGC, a request to ban the use of the word "Allah" for non-Muslims was presented in Perak ten years ago. The prime minister at the time, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, had communicated to the parties in the case that there was no cause for proceeding. Jagjit is now asking prime minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to use the same approach in the case of the Herald.

Jagjit has asked the court to update the hearing with the request of the MGC. Judge Lau Bee Lan has established February 27 as the date for deciding whether to permit the parties to present a deposition as requested for judicial review.

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