The Federal Court of Malaysia in June refused the country’s Roman Catholic Church leave to appeal against the ban of the use of the word “Allah” in their weekly newspaper, The Herald. Christians argue they have used the word, which entered Malay from Arabic, to refer to their God for centuries and that the ruling violates their rights. Malaysian authorities say its use by Christians could confuse Muslims and lead some to convert to Christianity.
According to reports, 4 of the 7-member bench dismissed the church’s application for appeal, stating that the Court of Appeal was right in its decision to ban the word.
In a media release, the Christian Federation of Malaysia expressed their disappointment at the verdict, stating that such decisions could result in serious negative repercussions for the freedom of religion in the country.
On 14 October 2013, the Court of Appeal in Malaysia ruled that non-Muslims could not use the word “Allah” to refer to God. In the verdict, the Court of Appeal expressed the opinion that all religions should be practised in peace and harmony with Islam as it was the official religion of the Federation. Malaysia is a member of the Commonwealth.
UPDATE 7 July
The Malaysian Chronicle reports that UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, has said many Muslims believe the court ruling undermines the credibility of Islam. Muslim scholars and clerics, both locally and worldwide, have criticised the ban, pointing out that the word predates Islam and means “God” in Arabic.