Malaysian court suspends decision allowing Catholic paper to use 'Allah'


On Wednesday, the Malaysian High Court suspended a ruling that would have allowed a Catholic newspaper to use the word “Allah” in a non-Muslim context. The decision came after an appeal was made by prosecutors trying to overturn the ruling.

The Herald, Malaysia's sole Catholic publication, was prosecuted last year by the Malaysian Home Ministry and threatened with the loss of its printing license for its use of “Allah” in describing the Christian God in its Malay-language section.

The Herald argued that use of the term follows a centuries-old tradition within the Arabic language that pre-dates Islam, while the Home Ministry claimed that its usage outside the Muslim context was an affront to Muslims. Islam is both the state religion and the largest faith in the country.

The High Court decision on Wednesday came after the Archbishop of Malaysia and the Malaysian Home Ministry agreed that banning the use of “Allah” for non-Muslims was of national concern.

After last week's court approval of the paper's usage of “Allah,” which has since been retracted,  hundreds of Muslim youth protested and The Herald's website was hacked several times. 

“We believe these actions (are designed) to create a climate of fear and a perceived threat to national security so as to pressure the court in reversing it's decision,” said Fr. Andrew Lawrence, editor of The Herald, in a statement to the Agence France Presse (AFP) Wednesday.

Nevertheless, The Herald has agreed outside of the court to the suspension of the controversial ruling, given the sensitivity of the issue and potential backlash.

“We are Malaysians and we want to live in peace and happiness,” Fr. Lawrence stated.

Though court officials have indicated that the matter should be resolved soon, no court date has been set.

The Herald has a circulation of 14,000 a week, and is printed in four languages. Malaysia is home to around 850,000 Catholics.

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