01/21/2015, 00.00
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Malaysia's Federal Court dismisses Catholic case for the use of the word Allah

Five justices rejected unanimously the appeal filed by the Herald and the Church. For Catholic priest, this is a wrong decision that can affect minority rights. Muslim Lawyers Association, this should be the end of the long-running controversy.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - Malaysia's Federal Court has dismissed the latest (and perhaps the last) appeal by the Catholic Church for the right of non-Muslims to use the word Allah.

For the Catholic weekly Herald, which led the fight for religious freedom and respect of constitutional principles, the ruling might bring to a close a court case that has dragged on for years.

The five-member court agreed unanimously not to review the case because there was no procedural unfairness in its previous decision.

The ruling comes at a time of rising tensions and targeted attacks against Malaysia's Christian minority.

The attacks, which include church arsons, grave desecrations and the seizure of 300 Bibles in January 2014, are the result of a clash over the use of the word Allah for the Christian God.

In fact, what began as a legal dispute between the government and the Herald - that led to a decision by the High Court on 23 June of last year to dismiss the paper's appeal, thus reversing a 2009 ruling in favour of the Church - has turned into a major national controversy.

Outside the Federal Court House, police presence kept order, and no incidents were reported. Nevertheless, today's verdict could have further repercussions on other disputes over the use of the word "Allah", which the Malaysian government and Muslim groups claim for their exclusive use.

For now, the Chinese Muslim Association of Malaysia and other groups said that today's decision should mark the end of the Catholic Church's legal bid to use the word "Allah" in its weekly publication Herald.

For its part, the Muslim Lawyers Association called on all parties to respect the Federal Court's decision and avoid further rows.

Shortly after the verdict, Herald's editor in chief Fr Lawrence Andrew expressed disappointment.

Although an error in his opinion, he said that the decision was an important constitutional case and that he hoped it would affect the rights of minorities.

The clergyman noted that Christians have used the word Allah for hundreds of years, "And during this period, there was no trouble whatsoever."

For the lawyers representing the Catholic Church, the issue might not be over yet because of other pending lawsuits over the use of "Allah" with some constitutional questions not yet decided by the country's top court.

Malaysia is a nation of more than 28 million people, mostly Muslims (60 per cent). Christians are the third largest religious group (after Buddhists) with more than 2.6 million members.

A Latin-Malay dictionary published 400 years ago shows that the word Allah was already in use to describe the Biblical God in the local language.

Some 180,000 Catholics live in the capital Kuala Lumpur out of a population of over 11 million residents. They are served by 55 priests, 154 men and women religious, but only one permanent deacon.

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