Malaysia asked to lift ban on use of ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims

Bangkok : Amnesty International (AI) Tuesday demanded that the Malaysian government abolish a decree that bans non-Muslims from using the word “Allah” meaning God, a day after a federal court ratified the government edict.

AI condemned the law as an “abuse” and a “violation” of the freedom of speech and criticised the fact that violators can be criminally prosecuted as “deeply disturbing”.

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“The decree is not only repressive, but is dangerous. It poses a risk of inflaming more religious tensions in Malaysia by denying people the right to religious freedom,” Hazel Galang-Folli, AI delegate in Malaysia, said in a statement.

The Malaysian Federal Court ruled Monday in favour of the government’s decree which was submitted in 2007.

The ruling was also a conclusive rejection of the appeal made by the Malay edition of the Christian newspaper, Herald.

Initially, in 2009, the Supreme Court had annulled the decree which triggered a wave of violence against Christian churches by radical groups prompting the government to appeal to the appellate court to reconsider its demand.

“The Malaysian authorities should immediately revoke this decree that puts Malaysian non-Muslims at a risk of being arrested for exercising their right to freedom of speech,” said Galang-Folli.

The use of the word “Allah” by Malaysian Christians and Indonesians dates back to the Hebrew translation of “Elohim” (God) as “Allah” in the Malay Bible translated by the missionary Francisco Javier, who travelled through Asia in the 16th century.

Although the constitution of Malaysia guarantees religious freedom, the authorities and Muslim groups assert that the law prevents the use of Islamic terms by non-Muslims as it may cause confusion and the conversion of Muslims.

On Jan 2, the authorities confiscated 350 Malay Bibles from the headquarters of the Bible Society of Malaysia because of the use of the word “Allah”, meaning “god” in Arabic.

The Vatican envoy in Malaysia, Archbishop Joseph Marino, had to apologise to the Malaysian authorities in 2013 for having declared his support for Christians who used “Allah” in their Bibles or other religious texts.

Around 60 percent of the 28 million Malaysians practise Islam, most being moderates, while the rest follow Buddhism (19 percent), Christianity (9 percent), Hinduism (6 percent) and Taoism (2.6 percent) along with other minority religions.