KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church urged a court Monday to let Christians use “Allah” as a translation for God and overturn a government ban that has become a symbol of religious grievances in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
The High Court began hearing legal arguments in the dispute, which began in late 2007 after the government blocked non-Muslims from translating God as “Allah” in their literature, saying it would confuse Muslims.
Authorities have insisted that Allah should be used exclusively by Muslims to refer to God, and its use by other religions would be misleading.
While Malaysia has a secular legal system, the country is ruled by a ‘moderate’ Muslim majority.
“Muslims in Malaysia come under the purview of religious courts that are not part of the secular federal legal system. Any attempt to deviate from Islamic teachings, or to leave the religion, can bring harsh penalties from the religious courts.” [source]
In 2008 The Herald, a weekly magazine circulated among the country’s 850,000 Catholics, nearly lost its publishing licence for using the disputed word.
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Last February it was reported that the Malaysian government had softened an earlier ban on the use of the word “Allah” by Christian publications to refer to God and is allowing them to use it as long as they specify the material is not for Muslims.
The Herald nevertheless elected to continue its court case, started to force the government to allow it to print the word “Allah.”
According to AP, minority groups in Malaysia say their rights are being eroded amid increasing “Islamisation” of the country.