KUALA LUMPUR – After months of wrangling, a Malaysian court ruled on Thursday, December 31, that Christians are entitled to use the world “Allah” in their publications to refer to God, overturning a government ban.

“The applicant has the constitutional right to use the word ‘Allah’,” High Court Judge Lau Bee Lan told a packed courtroom, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.

The use of the word Allah in Christian publications in the local Malay language has triggered a controversy in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country since a local Catholic weekly, The Herald, used it in its Malay-language edition.

The government threatened to revoke the weekly’s license if it continued printing the word.

It later allowed Christian publications to use some Muslim words, including Allah, as long as the phrase “For Christians” is printed on the cover.

However, the government backtracked after some scholars said this might offend Muslims, who make up more than 60 percent of the population.

In February, the Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam, as publisher of Herald, filed for a judicial review against the government for the right to use Allah.
“Even though Islam is the federal religion, it does not empower the respondents to prohibit the use of the word,” ruled the court.

The court ruling was swiftly welcomed by Malaysian Christians, who make up around 9.1 percent of the population.

“It is a day of justice and we can say right now that we are citizens of one nation,” said Father Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the Catholic weekly.

He immediately declared that the paper would use the word “Allah” in its upcoming Sunday edition.
“This also means that…the Christian faith can now continue to freely use the word ‘Allah’…without any interference from the authorities.”

Officials from Malaysia’s Islamic Party (PAS) have supported the case of the Catholic weekly as a constitutional right.

Malaysia has a population of nearly 26 millions, with Malays, mostly Muslims, making up nearly 60 percent.
Christians, including a Catholic population of nearly 800,000, make up around 9.1 percent of the population.