Monday, 23 June 2014

Allah For Muslims Only ?

The Federal Court of Malaysia, which is the highest Court in the Country, has issued a judgment supporting a ban by the a state Government on the Catholic Herald of Malaysia preventing it from using the word "Allah" as a title for "God" and ending a years-long legal battle that has caused religious tensions in that Muslim-majority country.

The Catholic Church had been seeking to reverse the government ban preventing it referring to God by the Arabic word “Allah” in the local Malay-language edition of the Herald newspaper but a seven-judge panel in the administrative capital Putrajaya has supported an earlier ruling in the Court of Appeal that only Muslim publications could use the word "Allah".  The Court of Appeal Judgment was the case of  Negeri and Ors v Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur No:. W-01-1-2010 14 October 2013 also Here & Here with official Press Summary.

The Federal Court Judgment will be added to this site once it becomes publicly available:  NOW AVAILABLE Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur v Negeri & Ors, Civil Application No.: 08-690-11/2013

The dispute began in 2007 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the publishing permit of the Herald for using the Arabic word in its Malay-language edition. The church launched a court case to challenge the directive, arguing “Allah” had been used for centuries in Malay-language Bibles and other literature to refer to “God” outside of Islam but the authorities said that using “Allah” in non-Muslim literature could confuse Muslims and entice them to convert which is a crime in Malaysia. This is in accordance with the Constitution of Malaysia clauses 3 & 11

3(1) islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation
11(4) State law and in respect of the Federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and putrajaya, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of islam

An example of the enforcement of Article 11(4) is is the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (control of propagation amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988  which states

4(1) A person commits an offence if he persuades, influences or incites a Muslim---
(a) to be inclined towards any non-Islamic religion, or 
(b) to become a follower or member of a non-Islamic religion; or 
(c) to forsake or disfavour the religion of Islam.
(2) A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to a fine not exceeding ten thousand ringgit or to both.
(3) It shall not be a defence to a charge under subsection (1) that the Muslim was not affected by anything said or done by the accused to him.

9(1) A person commits an offence if he-
(a) in any published writing; or
(b) in any public speech or statement; or 
(c) in any speech or statement addressed to any gathering of persons; or
(d) in any speech or statement which is published or broadcast and which at the time of its making he knew or ought reasonably to have known would be published of broadcast,uses any of the words listed in Part I of the Schedule, or any of its derivatives or variations, to express or describe any fact, belief, idea, concept, act, activity, matter, or thing of or pertaining to any non-Islamic religion.

One of the "words listed in Part 1 of the Schedule" is "Allah"

In December of 2009, the High Court of Malaysia decided that the use of the word "Allah" by the Catholic (and other Christian Churches) was constitutional which led to incidents of violence against Christian Churches.  In October of 2013, the Court of Appeals overturned the 2009 decision stating 
"the usage of the name 'Allah' is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity."
and that is clearly also the opinion of the Federal Court of Malaysia

An interesting question is whether this case could have implications for Christians, and other Non-Muslims in other Muslim Majority Countries.  "Allah" is the common name for "God" in Arabic and has been used by Arab Christians since the Muslim Conquests of the Middle East.  The Christian and Muslim concepts of what "God" or "Allah" is or how he manifests himself to mankind differs but the same word is used. It is not inconceivable however that Non Muslims in Arab and other countries could now find that their right to use the word "Allah" is increasingly called into question

A helpful summary of the history of the case was displayed in the Malay Mail Online which I reproduce below (c) Malay Mail 

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