Malaysia: Catholic paper wins appeal over 'Allah' ban order

Kuala Lumpur, 5 May (AKI) - A Roman Catholic weekly newspaper, The Herald, on Monday won the first round of a legal battle with the Malaysian government over its ban on Christians using the world 'Allah' as a synonym for 'God'.

Malaysia's High Court ruled The Herald may mount a legal challenge to the government ban and that prosecutors' objection to a lawsuit by the paper was "without merit".

The Catholic church's main media organ in Muslim-majority Malaysia, is seeking to reverse a government ban on the paper using the word 'Allah' as a synonym for 'God' in its Malay language section.

The government imposed the ban in January, and communicated it to the paper in a letter of 31 December last year, arguing that the word 'Allah' only referred to the Muslim God and that "the use of the word Allah in a Catholic newspaper could confuse Muslims."

The Herald countered that 'Allah' is an Arabic word which predates Islam and which has for centuries meant 'God' in the Malay language.

The Herald, is published in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil and has a circulation of 12,000 copies. There are some 850,000 Catholics in Malaysia, where Muslims form 60 percent of the population of 27 million.

Once seen as a model of multi-ethnic coexistence, Malaysia's religious minorities have been complaining increasingly that the government's attempts to give Islam greater status as the country's official religion is infringing their rights.


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