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Non-Islamic Malaysian media loses right to use of the word “Allah”

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the ruling by the Federal Court of Malaysia to uphold the laws deeming it illegal for non-Islamic publications to use the word ‘Allah’. The IFJ expresses strong concern for these laws, which will restrict freedom of expression and freedom of religion in the Muslim-majority nation.

On June 23, the Federal Court of Malaysia ended a five-year court battle between the Government of Malaysia and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Nicholas Xavier Pakiam. The case began in 2009 when the Ministry of Home Affairs wrote to Pakiam and advised him that The Herald, a weekly Catholic newspaper available in English, Tamil, Chinese and Bahasa Melayu, must refrain from printing the word Allah in the Bahasa Malayu version.

Allah, from Arabic is the Bahasa Malayu word for God irrespective of the religious context. It is also used by Bahasa-speaking Sikhs, Indonesians and Arabic speaking Christians, Mizrahi Jews, and Maltese Catholics as well as appearing the in Al-Kitab, the Bahasa Malayu translation of the Bible. The condition placed upon The Herald restricted all use of the word Allah unless in reference to the Islamic deity.

The Archbishop sought a judicial review of the condition, asking for judicial declarations that the condition was a violation of fundamental freedoms written in the Malaysian constitution. The government case was founded in laws enacted by ten of Malaysia’s 13 legislatures surrounding the ‘Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions’. These laws, however, conflict with Article 3 of the Constitution which says while Islam is the official religion of the Federation; this should not impinge on the rights of non-Muslims to practice other religions in peace and harmony.

In 2009, the High Court of Malaysia ruled in favor of Archbishop Pakiam and the Bishops of the Peninsular of Malaysia. The win was short-lived, when Islamic Affairs Departments of certain states raided various Christian organisations impounding Bahasa and Iban-language bibles in 2011. This year, the Court of Appeal unanimously ruled in favor of the Government and set aside the earlier decision by the High Court. Pakiam was organizing an appeal; however on June 23 the case was officially closed when the Federal Court of Malaysia turned down their application and upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal.

The IFJ Asia Pacific said: “The ruling by the Federal Court of Malaysia to ban the use of the word ‘Allah’ in Malaysian-language publications is a deplorable act and impinges on freedom of speech in Malaysia’s media.”

“Allah is not a term exclusive to the Islamic faith, and the efforts made by the Malaysian Government to restrict its usage highlight the repressive environment that journalists and media workers are faced with in the country. We call on the Government to reprieve the ruling and show their willingness to promote freedom of speech in Malaysia.”

Date posted: September 4, 2014 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 3