Malaysia’s High Court has this week dismissed an attempt by Christians for the right to use the word Allah.
People of all faiths in Malaysia – a largely Muslim country – have used the word Allah to describe God.
And the word is used in Christian literature and Bibles in the country.
The dispute first erupted in 2007 when the Malay government threatened to close down a Christian newspaper for using the word Allah to describe God.
The Catholic Church then went to court over the issue, arguing that the word Allah had been used for centuries in Malay-language Bibles and other literature to refer to God.
But authorities said that using the word Allah in non-Muslim literature could confuse Muslims and potentially lead to conversions, which is a crime in Malaysia.
In 2009, a court ruled in favour of the Church. Then last October an appeals court reinstated the ban
In January, some 300 Bibles were seized from Bible Society in Malaysia because they referred to Allah
Speaking after this week’s ruling, S Selvarajah, a lawyer for the Church said that his team would be exploring ways to challenge the ban.
‘It’s a blanket ban,’ he told the AFP news agency. ‘Non-Muslims cannot use the word. It has a major impact.’
In the wake of the Southwark diocesan ‘scandal’ – wherein Fr. Giles Goddard, Vicar of St. John’s, Waterloo, is being criticised by conservative evangelicals for allowing Muslims to worship in a Christian church – we have this Malaysian Government ban on Christians using the word ‘Allah’ in their literature – including Bibles!
Is this a knock-back by Muslims for what has happened is the U.K. recently? Apparently not, because this opposition to Christian use of the word Allah for God has, historically, been challenged before in the Malaysian Court – before being overturned at the express legal action of the local Roman Catholic Church.
Arab Christians are known to use the word ‘Allah’ for God, but it would appear that the Malaysian Muslim Government is afraid of local muslims being ideologically converted to Christianity if the word Allah appears in any Christian publications. Malaysia is a country where the law prevents the conversion of Muslims to any other faith.
However, there will still be protests against prohibition of the use of the word ‘Allah’ in Christian worship. This prohibition could be seen as strange when all of the Abrahamic Faith groups believe implicitly in ‘One God’. What should it matter what we call God?
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand