Malaysia’s government on Monday appealed a court ruling that allows the country’s Christian minority and other non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” to refer to God.
The government contends that the word “Allah” is an Islamic word and if used by non-Muslims could confuse Muslims into converting to those faiths. But Malaysian Christians, who are fighting to use the word “Allah,” argue that the word predates Islam and is used by Arabic-speaking non-Muslims to refer to God.
The appeal comes less than a week after the High Court found a ban on the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims to be unconstitutional. The case on the use of the word “Allah” began in late 2007 when The Herald, the Roman Catholic Church’s weekly Malaysian publication, filed a suit in order to use the word in its newspaper.
The suit was filed after the government threatened to revoke The Herald’s printing permit if it did not cease use of the word “Allah” in the Malay language section of its newspaper.
The Malaysian Catholic Church argued that barring non-Muslims from using the word “Allah” is unconstitutional and violates freedom of religion.
Last Thursday in a landmark ruling, Judge Datuk Lau Bee Lan announced that the word “Allah” is not exclusive to Islam and that the government’s Home Ministry is “not empowered” to ban non-Muslims from using the word.
The High Court is reportedly dominated by Muslims, but the close monitoring of the case by the international press placed pressure on the Malaysian court.
Despite the court ruling, many Muslims have yet to accept the right of non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” for God. Hundreds of young Muslims have protested in front of the High Court building and The Herald’s web site has been hacked several times since the decision.
"The government is very much aware and concerned of various reactions that it has received after the recent High Court decision,” Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak told reporters Sunday.
"The issue is very sensitive and touches on the feelings of Muslims, we need to be calm now and let the matter be resolved through the courts," he added.
According to the CIA World Factbook, 60.4 percent of Malaysia's 25.7 million people ascribe to Islam. Around 19.2 percent of the people are Buddhist and 9.1 percent are Christian.