Malaysia Court Rules Catholic Paper Can Use ‘Allah’ In Print

Dec. 31 (Bloomberg) — Malaysia’s High Court ruled that a government ban on non-Muslim publications using the word “Allah” is unconstitutional, settling a dispute that stoked questions about religious freedom in the country.

The Herald, a weekly publication of the Catholic Church of Malaysia, filed for a judicial review after it was temporarily ordered to stop publishing for two weeks in December 2007 after using the word, which means “God,” in its Malay-language section.

The publication has a “constitutional right to use the word,” Judge Lau Bee Lan said in her oral judgment today, saying the paper only used it for a Christian audience and not for Muslims.

Malaysia’s government banned non-Muslims publications from referring to “Allah” in 1986 on grounds that it could threaten national security and confuse the country’s Muslims, who make up more than 60 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million population.

Reverend Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of The Herald, welcomed today’s decision, saying it upheld freedom of expression and religion in the country.

“This also means that the Bahasa Malaysia-speaking community of the Christian faith can now continue to freely use the word ‘Allah’ without any interference from the authorities,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur today.