Ban on churches in Malaysia using 'Allah' for God arises again

(REUTERS / Samsul Said)Muslim demonstrators chant slogans outside Malaysia's Court of Appeal in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur March 5, 2014. Malaysia's Federal Court has reserved its ruling on an appeal from a Catholic newspaper to use the word Allah to refer to God, an issue that had fanned religious tensions and raised questions over minority rights in this mainly Muslim country.

Christians in Putrajaya, Malaysia are again facing legal persecution due to the country's High Court's decision to reserve the right for Muslims to have exclusive usage of the term 'Allah' to refer to God.

Documents about that decision became classified under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) in 2017, International Christian Concern reported May 29 in an issue that has rolled on for years in this Muslim-majority country.

For years, the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Church has fought against that decision for Allah which is the standard Arabic word for God.

SIB is appealing to the High Court on the grounds of their constitutional right to use the word "Allah" in the Bahasa language to refer to the Christian God.

Previous research has shown that Christians used the word "Allah" as early as the fifth century and Jews in some countries are know to used Allah to refer to God.

Yet historically, the Malaysian government has refused to reveal why it has banned non-Muslims from using "Allah" as God.

The church has asked the government to provide documents giving the reasons for its 1986 "Allah ban,".

Still the High Court has decided to prohibit the use of 'Allah' in non-Muslim literature, since the government is not required to show the existence of the documents if they believe it would hurt the public interest. 

An application was also filed to challenge the decision of the Royal Malaysian Customs to seize religious publications brought in from Indonesia, which contained the word "Allah", at the low-cost carrier terminal in Sepang on August 15, 2007.


The Court of Appeals has set a date for next month for the SIB Church to appeal the 1986 "Allah ban," according to senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan, who is representing the Home Ministry and the government in the appeal.

In June 2014, a ruling by Malaysia's highest court rebuffed a Catholic Church appeal to reverse the ban on non-Muslims using the word "Allah" to refer to God and at the time evoked some confusion due to a government statement after the ruling.

At the end of June 2014, the Malaysian Federal Court, in a 4-3 majority decision, rejected the Catholic Church's attempt to get court approval to challenge the Home Ministry's ban on the use of the word in a church newspaper.

Later, however, the Prime Minister's office said in response to the court ruling banning The Herald, a Catholic newspaper, that Malaysian Christians can still use the word "Allah" in church.

"The Government respects the decision of the court and asks all parties to abide by it.

"The ruling only applies to the Herald newspaper's use of the word 'Allah'. Malaysian Christians can still use the word 'Allah' in Church," the statement said.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia had said Christians would continue to use the word 'Allah' in Bibles, church services and gatherings due to the court decision being confined to its use in the country's Herald newspaper.

"The Christian community continues to have the right to use the word 'Allah' in our Bibles, church services and Christian gatherings in our on-going ministry to our Bahasa Malaysia-speaking congregations, as we have done all this while," the federation chairman Rev. Eu Hong Seng had said.

"We continue to maintain that the decision of the Court of Appeal, and its reasoning in arriving at their decision, was so critically flawed in so many respects," said Eu.

"Serious negative repercussions for the freedom of religion for the Christian community in Malaysia as a whole emanate from those statements and observations, but sadly the Roman Catholic Church has been denied the opportunity of challenging them before our apex court," he said.

Rev. Hermen Shastri, Council of Churches of Malaysia general secretary said in 2014 that the narrative would continue in the hearts and minds of Christians despite the court ruling.

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