Malaysian court ruling curbing Christian use of 'Allah' causes confusion

(Photo: REUTERS / Samsul Said)A Muslim man stands outside the court in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur June 23, 2014. Malaysia's Federal Court on Monday rejected an application for leave by the Catholic Church to challenge a Court of Appeal decision to prohibit the weekly Herald Bahasa Malaysia section from using the word "Allah."

A ruling by Malaysia's highest court rebuffing a Catholic Church appeal to reverse a ban on non-Muslims using the word "Allah" to refer to God evoked some confusion due to a government statement after the ruling.

On Monday, 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.

The following day, 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 said Christians will continue to use the word 'Allah' in Bibles, church services and gatherings due to the court decision being confined to its use in the Herald.

"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 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 the narrative would continue in the hearts and minds of Christians despite the court ruling, The Star Online reported.

"The court decision may have attempted to close the chapter on the Herald case, but it has not. The narrative will continue in the hearts and minds of Christians.

"The divided decision of the judges also shows how divided we have become between the majority and minorities in our country," Shastri said in a statement.

Support for the appeal came from the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation.

In a November 5 letter to Lutheran World Federation church leaders in Malaysia, the president of the LWF, Bishop Munib A. Younan, and its general secretary, Rev. Martin Junge, called the original court ruling an attempt to suppress freedom of religion and expression in Malaysia.

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