Court to decide on church’s usage of ‘Allah’ today 

Qishin Tariq, The Star

The Court of Appeal will decide today if Catholic weekly The Herald can use the term ‘Allah’ in its Malay edition.

The Court of Appeal had reserved judgment on the Government’s appeal after the conclusion of submissions on Sept 10.

It had heard submissions from lawyers for the Home Ministry and the Government, interested Muslim groups and the Catholic Church.

The three-man panel, comprising Justice Mohamed Apandi Ali, who was elevated to Federal Court on Sept 30, Justice Mohd Zawawi Salleh and Justice Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahim, is expected to deliver its decision today.

The dispute on the use of ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims started when the Home Ministry prohibited the publication to use the word as a condition for permit renewal issuance in 2007.

In February 2008, the Church filed for a judicial review of the ministry’s decision and, on Dec 31, 2009, the High Court declared the decision by the ministry was illegal, null and void.

The court also ruled the term ‘Allah’ was not exclusive to Muslims and use by the Christians was protected under the Federal Con­stitution as long as it was not used to preach to Muslims.

The Home Ministry and Government then appealed against the decision.

A rash of attacks against Churches – from vandalism to arson – broke out in the aftermath of the decision, a reaction believed to stem from certain groups that believed that the word should only be used to refer to the Muslim God.

The Herald editor Rev Father Lawrence Andrew said the publication had not used ‘Allah’ in the interim as the Government had been granted a stay against the execution while the appeal was still ongoing.

“Should the decision favour the Church, it would be a recognition of religious freedom, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution. In fact, the Constitution is being tarnished by such limitations,” he said.

On July 9, the Roman Catholic Archbishop filed an application to strike out the Government’s appeal, arguing that a 10-point solution signed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak on April 11, 2011, allowed the importation and publication of Bibles in all languages, including Bahasa Malaysia with the word ‘Allah’ without restriction and, by extension, The Herald, which quotes the Bible, too, should be allowed to use the word.

This was disallowed by the Court of Appeal on the grounds that the subject of the appeal was still a live issue and that the controversy had yet to be resolved.