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ASIA/MALAYSIA – Judicial decision on the use of the name of Allah in Christian publications, “a victory of common sense”

The question of the use of the name "Allah" has for a very long time caused divisions in Malaysia, with Christians complaining about attempts to reserve it for Muslim communities, highlighting the fact that this in fact tends to an Islamization of pluralist society.

Kuala Lumpur (Agenzia Fides) – “The High Court’s decision to allow the word Allah to be used by Christians across Malaysia is a victory of common sense and should not be seen as the victory of one group or community over another”. This is what the Anglican bishop Datuk Danald Jute, responsible for the Anglican Communion in Sarawak and Brunei, affirms in a note sent to Agenzia Fides. “This decision should be accepted and celebrated by all peace-loving Malaysians, wherever they come from and whatever community they belong to”, he explained.

Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin ruled that the 1986 government directive banning the use of the word “Allah” in Christian publications is unconstitutional and invalid. The decision in question also affirms the right of Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, a Christian in the state of Sarawak, not to be discriminated against and to practice her faith. The decision of the High Court of Kuala Lumpur, issued yesterday 11 March, also states that three other words namely “Baitullah” (Arabic word for “house of God”), Kaabah (the building at the center of the Great Mosque of Mecca which all Muslims around the world turn to for prayer) and “Solat” (praying) can be used in religious and educational publications. The High Court noted that the Christian communities in the states of Sabah and Sarawak have been using the term “Allah” for generations in the practice of their faith and the fact that they have been using it for 400 years cannot be ignored.

The legal case dates back to 2008, when customs officials at Kuala Lumpur International Airport seized eight CDs belonging to Ms. Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, a Malaysian Christian from Sarawak state. The CDs were titled “Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah (Lifestyle in the Kingdom of God), “Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah (Living righteously in the Kingdom of God) and “Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah (True worship in the Kingdom of God)”.

Following the kidnapping, Ms Jill Ireland filed a judicial appeal against the Minister of the Interior and the Malaysian Government, demanding official recognition of her constitutional rights to practice her religion and to be free from discrimination. In 2014 a court ruled that the Home Office had failed to seize the CDs and ordered their return to Ms Jill Ireland. In 2015, the Court of Appeal referred the constitutional question back to the High Court. The case was heard by the High Court in 2017 but the announcement of the decision was repeatedly postponed until yesterday’s decision. The government could in any case appeal to challenge the judge’s decision.
In 2014, a similar proceeding reached the third degree of judgment, the Federal Supreme Court of Malaysia, on the other hand, upheld the prohibition – made by the High Court in the second degree – to use the word Allah. in the Malaysian-language edition of the Catholic newspaper Herald, after a first-instance ruling that favored the journal edited by Father Lawrence Andrew SI.

The question of the use of the name “Allah” has for a very long time caused divisions in Malaysia, with Christians complaining about attempts to reserve it for Muslim communities, highlighting the fact that this in fact tends to an Islamization of pluralist society. The legal battle has also taken on symbolic significance for minority rights and has in the past given rise to interfaith tensions.

The Federation of Malaysia is a multiethnic, multicultural and multi-religious country. Its population is nearly 32.7 million inhabitants, 60% of whom are Muslims and 9% Christians, who are particularly present in the states of Sabah and Sarawak. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 12/3/2021)

SOURCE Fides. Published under Creative Commons License

PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Isaacs

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