Challenge to Allah ban allowed

(Reuters) – A MALAYSIAN court granted permission to a Christian to challenge the authorities for seizing religious material that used the word 'Allah", national news agency Bernama reported on Monday.

The decision represents a minor victory for Christians in this mainly Muslim country who have challenged a ban imposed by the Home Ministry against the use of the Arabic word to describe God by all except for Muslims.

The government has said the use of the word 'Allah' by non-Muslims might confuse Muslims or offend their sensitivities. New Prime Minister Najib Razak has had to balance promises of greater freedoms against the feelings of the majority Muslim population, some of whom feel their rights are being infringed.

Islam is the official religion in this Southeast Asian country, where Muslims make up about 65 per cent of the 27 million population.

Last month when the government said that it would not allow forced conversions of children, a number of Muslim organisations were opposed to the move, saying it was unfair to the Muslim parent.

Christianity is practised by 9.1 per cent of the Malaysian population, many of them either ethnic Chinese or from Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo Island, according to government data.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court on Monday allowed Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill permission to seek an order directing the Home Ministry to return eight CDs seized from her last May, as well as a declaration that she had the right to use materials with the word 'Allah' to describe God.

Home Ministry officials seized the CDs from the 27-year-old clerk after she disembarked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The CDs, containing Christian teaching materials, were brought in from Indonesia, where the national language shares much in common with Malay and where 'Allah' is routinely used by Christians to describe God.

The confiscated CDs bore titles including, 'The way to use the keys to the kingdom of Allah", and, 'True worship in the kingdom of Allah'.

Jill, a native of the mainly Christian state of Sarawak in Borneo island, claimed she used the word 'Allah' in her prayers, worship and religious education. The case is the second legal challenge against the ban.