Malaysia’s high court has set Dec. 30 as the date that it will rule on a case contesting whether the government of the predominantly Muslim country can bar Christian groups from referring to God as “Allah.”
Court Justice Lau Been Lan set the date after hearing lengthy arguments this week from lawyers representing the two sides – the government and the weekly publication of the Catholic Church of Malaysia.
While the Catholic Church maintains that the word “Allah” is not exclusive to Islam, the government has argued otherwise, saying that it is not only exclusive but that its usage by non-Muslims could pose a threat to national security and cause misunderstanding and confusion among Muslims.
"In our country, if one refers to Allah or mentions kalimah Allah, it will bring to one's mind that it refers to the god for Muslims. Kalimah Allah is sacred to the Muslims and put at the highest position, and its sanctity must be protected," Senior Federal Counsel Datuk Kamaluddin said Monday, according to local sources
Furthermore, Kamaluddin added, the Church cannot challenge the home minister’s decision to impose a condition on the permit sought by the Church’s weekly publication, The Herald.
“You can only challenge if the minister refused to grant a permit," he stated.
The Herald had filed suit against the Malaysian government in December 2007 after the government threatened to revoke its printing permit if it did not cease use of the word “Allah” in the Malay language section of its newspaper.
Under the Printing Presses and Publication Act of 1984, Malaysia’s home minister has the power to impose a prohibition as a condition, and in the case of The Herald, Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar reportedly prohibited the usage of the word "Allah" on the grounds of national security and to avoid misunderstanding and confusion among Muslims.
"The use of the word ‘Allah’ by other religions may arouse sensitivity and create confusion among Muslims," explained Abdullah Zin, the de-facto minister for Islamic affairs, to the local press last year.
The Herald, however, claims that the ban is unconstitutional and violates freedom of religion.
The newspaper’s lead counsel, Porres Royan, argued Monday that the word “Allah” was essential for worship and faith instruction within the country’s Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Catholic community.
Royan also insisted that the minister had also acted outside the Printing Presses and Publications Act.
“The Act was not meant to regulate any religious groups in the practice and propagation of their faith including through the use of religious publications,” he told High Court Justice Lau Bee Lan, according to The Malaysia Star.
"The said publication is a Catholic weekly and is intended for the dissemination of news and information on the Catholic Church in Malaysia and it is not made available to members of the public, in particular to persons professing the religion of Islam," he added, according to the Sun Daily.
Royan also noted that the publication does not contain any material that is likely to cause public alarm or touch on the sensitivities of the religion of Islam.
On Tuesday, however, Senior Federal Counsel Mohamad Naser Disa claimed that the ban on the use of the word "Allah" in the publication does not affect the publication’s freedom of religion nor that of other Christians.
"The applicant has also failed to show that the use of the word 'Allah' is a basic teaching in the Christian religion," he added.
The counsel also argued that "Allah" is the proper noun for the one and only God, was enshrined in the Quran and recognized in the Federal Constitution. Any effort to lower the prestige of the sanctity of the word, therefore, was an insult to the Federal Constitution, he said.
Following the last day of the two-day hearing, the high court announced its decision to rule on the case on Dec. 30.
According to the CIA World Factbook, 60.4 percent of Malaysia's 25.7 million people ascribe to Islam. Around 19.2 percent, meanwhile, is Buddhist, and 9.1 percent is Christian.
In general, Muslims enjoy special privileges in Malaysia as Islam is the dominant religion.