Monday, January 4, 2010

Malaysia to appeal 'Allah' ruling: minister


KUALA LUMPUR (AFP)

Malaysia's minister in charge of Muslim affairs has said the government will appeal a court ruling allowing a Catholic paper the right to use the word "Allah".

Malaysia's high court ruled last week the Herald weekly had the right to use the word "Allah" after a long-running dispute between the government and the newspaper in the Muslim-majority nation.

" It is important for Muslims here to guard the use of the word and if there is any attempt to insult or misuse the word we must take all legal action as allowed under the federal constitution "
Jamil Khir Johari, Malaysia\\\'s minister in charge of Muslim affairs

The paper has been using the word as a translation for "God" in its Malay-language section, but the government argued the word should be used only by Muslims.

Jamil Khir Johari said the country's national fatwa council had ruled in May 2008 that "Allah" could only be used by Muslims in Malaysia, state news agency Bernama reported late Saturday.

"It is important for Muslims here to guard the use of the word and if there is any attempt to insult or misuse the word we must take all legal action as allowed under the federal constitution," he was quoted as saying by Bernama.

Premier Najib Razak urged people to remain calm, saying he was concerned about reactions to the court decision.

"The issue is very sensitive and touches on the feelings of Muslims, we need to be calm now and let the matter be resolved through the courts," he was quoted as saying by Bernama Sunday.

Meanwhile the Herald's website was hacked at the weekend, causing the site to shut down, editor Father Lawrence Andrew told AFP.

"Our website was attacked by hackers and was shut down and we suspect it was done by those unhappy with the present situation," he said, while declining to comment on the government's plan to appeal.

The court ruled on Thursday the Catholic paper had the "constitutional right" to use the word "Allah", declaring the government's ban on the word "illegal, null and void".

Muslim groups have said they plan to protest the ruling.

Universiti Teknologi MARA political analyst Shahruddin Badaruddin said the main issue among Muslims was the fear that the use of the word by non-Muslims would inflame religious tensions.

"It is all about the fear that allowing use of the word will make it easier for Christians to convert the local population," he told AFP.

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad said the use of the term had to be governed strictly but that Muslims would still be angry over the ruling, according to the New Straits Times.

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