A judge in Malaysia ruled on Monday that a Catholic newspaper’s lawsuit that seeks to secure the right to use the word “Allah” may proceed, the Associated Press reports.
The Herald newspaper is seeking to overturn a government order prohibiting the paper from using the word “Allah” for God in its Malay-language section. The government says the word refers only to the Muslim God and its use by non-Muslims might confuse Muslim believers.
In addition to revoking the prohibition, the newspaper also wants the court to rule that the word “Allah” is not for the exclusive use of Muslims.
The Herald has argued that “Allah” is an Arabic word that predates Islam and has been used for centuries to mean “God” in the Malay language.
High Court Judge Lau Bee Lan has ruled that prosecutors’ objections to the newspaper’s lawsuit were “without merit.” She said she will allow the newspaper to contest the ban in court.
"The court agreed that the church's application is not frivolous nor vexatious nor an abuse of process. It deserves to be heard," said Derek Fernandez, a lawyer for The Herald. He told reporters that the court will set a trial date at another time.
Religious minorities in Malaysia have increasingly complained that their rights are being undermined by government efforts favoring Islam, Malaysia’s official religion. Ethnic Malays, nearly all of whom are Muslim, comprise about 60 percent of the country’s 27 million people. Ethnic Chinese and Indians are the largest minorities and are predominantly Buddhist, Christian or Hindu.