Malaysia Christians Challenge Ban on 'Allah'

A church in Malaysia and a Christian weekly newspaper are attempting to sue the Malaysian government for banning them from using the word "Allah," claiming that the ban is unconstitutional and violates freedom of religion.

Although "Allah" is the word for "God" in the Malay language, the government recently declared that the word refers to the Muslim god and can only be used by Muslims.

The latest decision by the government of predominantly Muslim Malaysia has added to concerns over the lack of protection of the rights of minorities in the country.

Malaysia, a country of around 25 million, is around 60 percent Muslim, 19 percent Buddhist, 9 percent Christian and 6 percent Hindu. Although the constitution of the country officially allows freedom of worship, in practice minority rights are often infringed.

The newspaper of the Catholic Church in Malaysia, The Herald, filed suit at the beginning of December following warnings that its permit could be revoked if it did not cease use of the word "Allah" in the Malay language section of its newspaper.

The paper has a circulation of around 12,000 and publishes in four different languages.

"We are of the view that we have the right to use the word 'Allah'," said the editor of the paper, the Rev. Lawrence Andrew, according to the Associated Press.

The Sabah Evangelical Church of Borneo has also initiated legal proceedings after it was banned from importing Christian books with the word "Allah" in it.

Lim Heng Seng, the lawyer for the church, told AP: "The decision to declare 'Allah' as only for Muslims, categorizing this as a security issue, and banning books with the word 'Allah,' is unlawful."

The Herald and the Sabah Evangelical Church have both named Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the prime minister as a co-defendant. Badawi has been named because he also holds the post of internal security minister.

According to AP, a church member from Sabah Evangelical Church had three boxes of children's education material confiscated at Kuala Lumpur airport in August.

Jerry Dusing, the pastor of the church, said he was told that the items were confiscated because they used the word "Allah" and could cause confusion and controversy amongst Muslims. This, they claimed, made it a security issue.

Dusing said that the word "Allah" had been used for generations by Malay speakers at Sabah and noted that it is used in the Malay Bible.

"The Christian usage of 'Allah' predates Islam. 'Allah' is the name of God in the old Arabic Bible as well as in the modern Arabic Bible," he said, according to AP.

Dusing also noted that the word "Allah" is commonly used by Christians in countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Indonesia.

According to AP, The Herald newspaper has been told that the Malay-language section of its newspaper will be banned in January when its annual permit is renewed.

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