Should Christians Be Allowed to Call God 'Allah'? Permission Granted for Case to Return to Malaysia Courts

A Malaysian Court ruled on Thursday that the government would be permitted to appeal a previous court decision that gave Christians the right to refer to God as "Allah" in their print materials.

Hundreds of Muslim protesters gathered outside the court house singing religious songs and waving signs that featured verses from the Quran.

(Photo: Flickr / Davidlohr Bueso)The Malaysia government and the Roman Catholic Church are currently engaged in a legal battle concerning the Church's right to refer to the Christian God as "Allah."

The case will be commence in Malaysia's Highest Court on Sept. 10, with the government seeking to bar non-Muslims from being able to use the word "Allah" in printed text, arguing that it is a sacred name and should only be permitted for use by Muslims.

However, the Church has highlighted that "Allah" has historical precedent for Christians and is the only proper translation for God in the Malay language.

Annou Xavier, one of the lawyers for the Catholic Church, told The Wall Street Journal: "You cannot have the Bible [in Bahasa Malaysia]…without the word 'Allah'."

"The prime minister said you can use the Bible. Indirectly he is saying you can use the contents of the Bible."

However, Zaidel Baharuddin, a member of United Malays National Organization, has alleged that the real reason for the Roman Catholic Church's insistence on using Allah lay in the Church's "covert" efforts to proselytize, an action that is illegal in Malaysia.

"Let's call a spade a spade," he told the Wall Street Journal. "The real reason why they insist on using the word 'Allah' is because if you are to proselytize, if you want to spread the word of the gospel, it is easier to use something that the local culture is familiar with."

The current case revolves around the use of the word "Allah" by popular a Catholic newspaper, which claims it has used "Allah" for years, despite government warnings. The government filed a lawsuit against the newspaper in 2007, however, the Church won the case and continued to print "Allah" in its publication.

The government though has refused to accept defeat, and they have now been granted permission to appeal the original decision in this week's court hearing.

The high tensions surrounding the case have had negative reprecussions for the relationship between the country's Muslim and Christian populations. Since the court case decision in 2009, there have been episodes of religious violence; in the immediate aftermath of the court's decision in favor of the Christians, 10 churches were vandalized and a church office was burned down.

Nasaruddin Mat Isa, a former deputy president of the Islamic Party of Malaysia, did not mention violence but made it clear that Muslims would not go down quietly if the court did not rule in their favor.

"I think there will be protests from...the religious perspective, from different Muslim groups here in Malaysia which, hopefully does not create disharmony in the society because we have been living together in harmony for years and years," he told the Wall Street Journal.

Over 60 percent of Malaysia's population is Islamic, while close to 10 percent of the population is Christian, 1 million of whom identify as Catholic.