Church wins right to challenge ‘Allah’ ban

By Debra Chong, The Malaysian Insider

After a lengthy battle that lasted over a year, the Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia finally won the right to challenge the government’s ban on the right to use the word “Allah” to mean "God" outside of Islam.

The High Court today granted leave to the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, as the publisher of Catholic newspaper The Herald, in his application for a judicial review.

The Catholic Church claims the word “Allah” is not exclusive to Islam and wants the court to overturn the home minister’s order declaring it as such.

A lawyer for the Catholic Church, Derek Fernandez, said it was supposed to be a “simple, straightforward matter” but became complicated as more and more parties got involved in the suit.

Several state Islamic councils including from Penang as well as certain Sikh religious groups had sought and were granted permission by the court early this year to intervene in the Catholic Church’s suit despite the latter’s objection.

The archbishop had originally filed the suit early last year and refreshed his application two months ago, on Feb 16, following the home minister’s renewal of the newspaper’s annual publishing permit for 2009.

Justice Lau Bee Lan from the Appellate and Special Powers division made her decision on the matter in chambers this morning.

She also set May 28 to hear the Catholic Church’s application to stay the home minister’s directive and to allow it to use the word “Allah” until the court rules conclusively that it cannot.

The leading lawyer for the Catholic Church, Porres Royan, explained to The Malaysian Insider that until the court approves the stay, the “status quo is preserved”.