MALAYSIA - A controversy in Malaysia over the use of the word "Allah" by Christians, which many Muslims oppose, looks set to drag on in the courts following a decision in the appeals court on Thursday.
In a unanimous judgment, three judges decided that the federal government could appeal against a 2009 High Court ruling that allowed the Catholic Church to use "Allah" to refer to the Christian God in its weekly publication, The Herald. The appeal will be heard on Sept 10.
"It is our view that the controversy is yet to be resolved," Court of Appeal judge Abu Samah Nordin said on Thursday.
The church has battled the federal government in court for four years over the right to use the word "Allah" in its publications. The word is also in Malay- language Bibles which the government initially confiscated, then released.
Christians make up 10 per cent of Malaysians. The majority live in Sabah and Sarawak, and many read the Bible in Malay.
The federal government has argued that the word is exclusive to Muslims, but the High Court ruling in 2009 said otherwise.
Soon after the landmark ruling, two Muslim men firebombed three churches in Kuala Lumpur.
Amid heightened tensions in 2011, the government told the church it would allow Malay-language Bibles to be printed and distributed to Christians locally.
The government's letter, known as the 10-point solution, appeared to be an olive branch extended by Prime Minister Najib Razak's administration to the church. But the letter was silent on the use of "Allah" in other publications such as The Herald.
Thursday's court ruling was greeted with jubilation by some 200 members of Muslim groups and Malay supremacist group Perkasa, who were gathered outside the courtroom. They shouted "Allah-hu-akbar" (Glory to God).
"The word 'Allah' is rightfully exclusive to Malays and Muslims," Ms Siti Hashim, 61, a Perkasa member said on Thursday. "We must protect it at all costs."
Ms Siti had travelled from Kedah to listen to the ruling.
Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of The Herald, expressed disappointment. "The Constitution allows us to nurture our faith, but we will just have to fight this battle another day," he said.
Mr S. Selvarajah, a lawyer representing the church, was optimistic. "If the government had allowed Christians to use 'Allah' in the Malay Bibles, why not in other Christian publications as well?"
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