Catholic Church moves to strike out Putrajaya’s ‘Allah’ appeal

Lawrence is editor of the Herald, the Catholic Church’s sole newspaper. 

(The Malay Mail) – Its patience seemingly worn thin, the Catholic Church has finally initiated a bid to strike out the federal government’s appeal against a landmark High Court ruling that Christians have as much right as Muslims to call their god “Allah”.

The Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur filed an application yesterday afternoon to throw out Putrajaya’s appeal, which has been languishing in the Court of Appeal for the past four years, the editor of Herald, the Church’s sole newspaper, told The Malay Mail Online.

“We have filed the application to strike out their appeal,” said Father Lawrence Andrew.

The Church was moved to act as the government had shown no signs of dropping its suit, the priest said, despite the Najib administration’s initial overtures to mend the cracks that have appeared in Malaysia’s multireligious society that has left Muslims on one side and believers of other creeds on the opposite ledge.

“This appeal case has to be struck out because the prime minister had in a letter dated 11 April 2011 offered a 10-point solution to the problems faced by the Christians in procuring the Al-Kitab for their worship, study and prayer,” Lawrence added.

The 10-point solution was an assurance given by Datuk Seri Najib Razak to the country’s Christian population that they were free to bring in and use their bibles in Malay as well as in other indigenous languages that contained the word “Allah”, after shipments of the holy book were banned.

Christians are Malaysia’s third-largest religious population at 2.6 million people, according to statistics from the 2010 census, behind Muslims and Buddhists.

Bumiputera Christians form about 64 per cent, or close to two-thirds of that figure, and have prayed in the national language and their native tongues for centuries.

And the Catholic Church makes up the largest numbers of all Christians in Malaysia. The Official Catholic Directory 2012 puts its congregation as numbering 1,007,643 people at the end of 2010, but the figures would have spiked in the past three years.

The Herald’s readership is also estimated at roughly one million people.

Lawrence noted that the government has also recognised the rights of Christians to “Allah” and pointed to a compromise reached with the Christian groups who agreed to allow copies of their holy book to bear the Home Ministry’s stamp, which marks the Malay and native-language bibles to be Christian publications for a Christian readership only.

“By the Cabinet decision and the subsequent letter of the PM, it has been stated that the Christians can procure the Al-Kitab freely but with the words for ‘Christians only’.

“The action of the government is an indication of admission and acceptance from the government that makes pursuit of the case academic,” the priest said.

Lawrence said the government’s actions indicate it admits the “Allah” word has been an integral part of Christian Scripture and a core of the creed’s dynamics in the country for more than four centuries.

The “Allah” row erupted in 2008 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the Herald’s newspaper permit, prompting the Catholic Church to sue the government for violating its constitutional rights.

In 2009, the High Court made a landmark ruling in favour of the Catholic Church, when it said the Middle Eastern word was not the exclusive right of Muslims and the Herald could publish it in its Bahasa Malaysia section, which caters to its Bumiputera congregation.

The federal government’s appeal to reverse the 2009 High Court judgment is scheduled for case management in the Court of Appeal today.

But in light of the latest development, the Court of Appeal will have to attend to the Church’s strike-out application before it can decide a hearing date for the government’s challenge.