By Debra Chong (Malaysian Insider)
KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 — The Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia finally won the right to challenge the government’s ban on the right to use the word “Allah” to mean “God” outside of Islam.
The High Court today granted leave to the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, as the publisher of Catholic newspaper The Herald, in his application for a judicial review.
The Catholic Church claims the word “Allah” is not exclusive to Islam and wants the court to overturn the home minister’s order declaring it as such.
A lawyer for the Catholic Church, Derek Fernandez, said it was supposed to be a “simple, straightforward matter” but became complicated as more and more parties got involved in the suit.
Several state Islamic councils including from Penang as well as certain Sikh religious groups had sought and were granted permission by the court early this year to intervene in the Catholic Church’s suit.
The archbishop had originally filed the suit early last year and made a new application two months ago, on Feb 16, following the home minister’s renewal of the newspaper’s annual publishing permit for 2009.
Justice Lau Bee Lan from the Appellate and Special Powers division made her decision on the matter in chambers this morning.
She also set May 28 to hear the Catholic Church’s application to stay the home minister’s directive and to allow it to use the word “Allah” until the court rules conclusively that it cannot.
The leading lawyer for the Catholic Church, Porres Royan, explained to The Malaysian Insider that until the court approves the stay, the “status quo is preserved”.
Editor of The Herald, Rev Father Lawrence Andrew verified that the weekly had stopped using the word “Allah” to refer to the Christian God in both its English and Malay-language sections.
“At the moment we’re not using the word ‘Allah’. We’re using the word ‘Tuhan’ in the Malay section, which is not the correct word,” he told The Malaysian Insider, adding it had received letters from concerned Catholics who were confused by the sudden change in the theological terms used to tell apart the different aspects of God.
“When do we say ‘God’ and when do we say ‘Lord’?” Fr Lawrence highlighted, pointing out that “Allah” was used to differentiate God the Father from His incarnation as Jesus, the “Christ” which also means “the Lord”.