Malay Supreme Court steps into ‘Allah row’

Protests during court hearing

Malaysia’s highest court has stepped in to hear an appeal against a government bar on non-Muslim publications using the name ‘Allah’ in print.

In a first for the country, the Supreme Court in Kuala Lumpur decided to tackle a civil case and, on March 5 heard opening arguments in the latest attempt by Catholics to have the ban overturned. The hearing was subsequently adjourned to a later, unspecified date, at which time the seven-judge panel will decide whether to allow for a full appeal hearing.

During the hearing, hundreds of Muslim demonstrators gathered outside the court building to voice their support for the current ban.

The name-usage row dates back to 2007 when the government threatened to withdraw the licence of the weekly catholic newspaper, The Herald, if it did not stop referring to God as Allah. In 2008, the paper’s editor, Fr Lawrence Andrew challenged the order, and has subsequently pointed out that the use of Allah by Christians has been a documented reality for at least 100 years in Malaysia. The Jesuit has since become a hate figure among fundamentalist Muslims and has been investigated for sedition by the authorities.