Again, Malaysia’s churches release ‘Allah’ fact sheet after court loss

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 22 — After taking a major blow in court today over the Catholic Church's claim to use "Allah", Malaysia's leading Christian front pressed for the dispute to be tried fairly at the next hearing on September 10.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), which represents churches nationwide, also reminded the public that Malay-speaking Christians in Southeast Asia have been using the Middle Eastern word to call their god for centuries.

"In the meantime, we pray that this matter will not be politicised but that the Court of Appeal be allowed to fairly adjudicate over the matter," CFM chairman Rev Dr Eu Hong Seng said.

His emailed statement included a fact sheet the group had put together and released previously, providing a chronological history on the use of the word "Allah" by indigenous Christians here.

"It is our solemn hope that our factual perspective on the issue will prevail in the courts of our land," he said.

The CFM fact sheet notes that the Arabic word "Allah" cannot be substituted with the Malay word "Tuhan", as both terms have different connotations.

"In the Malay language, 'Allah' means 'God' and 'Tuhan' means 'Lord'," said CFM in the fact sheet.

The Court of Appeal dismissed today the Catholic Church's application to strike off Putrajaya's appeal, noting that the subject matter was "not academic".

"It is still a live issue. The controversy has yet to be resolved," Justice Datuk Seri Abu Samah Nordin said in his judgment today.

The three-man bench - which was led by Abu Samah, and included Justices Datuk Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahim and Datuk Rohana Yusuf - unanimously decided to dismiss the Catholic Church's application with costs.

The Catholic Church argued earlier today that it was illogical to prohibit the Catholic weekly, Herald, from referring to God as “Allah” when Putrajaya had allowed shipments of Malay-language bibles containing the Arabic word in 2011.

The Church's lead counsel, Porres Royan, noted that the Cabinet had issued a 10-point solution in April 2011 that allowed bibles in Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and in indigenous languages to be imported for the use of the Christian community in Sabah and Sarawak.

Porres also stressed that the Cabinet, in its 10-point solution, expressed its intention to resolve the blockade of Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia bible shipments, as well as "other religious issues...and Christian materials".

But Haniff Khatri - lawyer for the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association, an intervenor in the appeal - argued that then-Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, in an affidavit, said the "word 'Allah' was not considered at all" in the Cabinet's 10-point solution.

The Catholic Church had sued the government for violating its constitutional rights after the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the publication permit of Herald in 2008 for using the Arabic word “Allah” to describe God.

The 2009 High Court judgment, which ruled that the word "Allah" was not exclusive to Muslims, had sparked one of the worst religious attacks in the country, where a church was firebombed and other places of worship desecrated.

With today's decision, the hearing of the appeal will continue on September 10.

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