A Roman Catholic priest and director of a diocesan newspaper in Malaysia is facing prosecution for using the word "Allah" to refer to God in his publication, something that is prohibited by law in the Muslim majority nation.
"The situation is quite serious. There is great concern in the Catholic Church because the story has taken a turn for the worse," Friar Augustine Julian, a missionary of the Brothers of Christian Schools in Kuala Lumpur and former secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Malaysia shared with Agenzia Fides, the news agency of the Vatican.
"The investigation of the judiciary in course is a subtle form of pressure towards all Christians. There is strong concern in the community and tension with radical Islamic groups"
Fr. Lawrence Andrew, the priest in question, has reportedly received over 109 complaints for arguing in an article for The Herald that Catholics should be allowed to use the word "Allah" to refer to God, which they have done so in the local Malay language for over a century.
In October 2013, a Malaysian court banned the newspaper from using "Allah" to refer to God, with Chief Judge Mohamed Apandi arguing that the word is "not an integral part of the faith in Christianity" and that using it in such a fashion would cause confusion.
"I am not discouraged, but dismayed and disappointed that a judgment [could] be made in a manner where the usage of 'Allah' is allowed in the Malay-language Bible but for the weekly [publication] it is prevented," Father Andrew said in response to the court's decision.
The decision overturned a lower court's ruling in 2009 which had allowed the Christian newspaper to use "Allah," after the Catholic Church claimed that prohibiting it from doing so would be a violation of its constitutional rights.
The country's minister of National Unity has clarified that the October decision refers specifically to The Herald, and that Christians would still be allowed to call God "Allah" during mass and church services.
"I am aware that the ruling is only applicable to the Herald case. It is specific to the Herald case. This means those who are in Sabah and Sarawak are still free to use that 'Allah' word," Tan Sri Joseph Kurup clarified.
But just last week, Malaysian authorities seized 321 bibles from the Bible Society of Malaysia in Selangor precisely because they used "Allah" in the holy book.
Two Bible Society officers were also detained and questioned by police, who reminded them that state laws prohibit such usage of the word.
"The prime minister, Selangor Menteri Besar, and all Christian lawmakers should act immediately to stop such actions and further raids," the council's general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri, said in a statement shortly after the raid.
"The CCM (Council of Churches of Malaysia) believes that Islamic authorities do not have the authority in law to enter the premises of non-Muslim religious establishments for inspection," Shastri added.
According to the CIA Factbook, 60 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people are Muslims, while 9 percent are Christians.