Monday, January 4, 2010

Malaysia rules Catholic paper can use 'Allah'


KUALA LUMPUR (Agencies)

Malaysia's high court ruled Thursday that a Catholic paper had the right to use the word "Allah" after a long-running dispute between the government and the weekly in the Muslim-majority nation.

The ruling overturns the government's controversial threat to cancel The Herald's annual publishing permit.

" The applicant has the constitutional right to use the word 'Allah' "
Judge Lau Bee Lan

"The applicant has the constitutional right to use the word 'Allah'," Judge Lau Bee Lan told a packed courtroom, declaring the government's ban on the paper's use of the word "illegal, null and void".

"Even though Islam is the federal religion, it does not empower the respondents to prohibit the use of the word," he added.

The weekly used the word "Allah" as a translation for "God" in its Malay-language section but the government argued "Allah" should be used only by Muslims.

Lau said the home ministry, which licenses all newspapers in the country, had taken into account "irrelevant considerations" when making the paper's publishing permit conditional on it not using the word.

She said it had shown no evidence that the use of the word by Christians was "a threat to national security".

The Herald's editor, Father Lawrence Andrew, said he was pleased with the decision and the paper would use the word 'Allah' in its upcoming Sunday edition.

"This also means that... the Christian faith can now continue to freely use the word 'Allah'... without any interference from the authorities," he added.

Government lawyers have not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.

The Herald is printed in four languages, with a circulation of 14,000 copies a week in a country with about 850,000 Catholics.

The court case was among a string of religious disputes that have erupted in recent years, straining relations between Muslim Malays and minority ethnic Chinese and Indians who fear the country is being "Islamized".

Religion and language are sensitive issues in multiracial Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.