Thursday, December 27, 2007

Malaysian church sues government for banning use of word 'Allah'

A Malaysian church has sued the government for banning the import of Christian books containing the word "Allah," alleging it was unconstitutional and against freedom of religion, a lawyer said Thursday.

The Sabah Evangelical Church of Borneo is also challenging the government for declaring that the word "Allah" — which means God in the Malay language — can only be used exclusively by Muslims, said the church's lawyer Lim Heng Seng.

"The decision to declare 'Allah' as only for Muslims, categorizing this as a security issue, and banning books with the word 'Allah' is unlawful," Lim told The Associated Press.

Religion issues are extremely sensitive in Malaysia, where about 60 percent of the 27 million people are Malay Muslims. Ethnic Chinese, who follow Christianity and Buddhism, account for 25 percent of the population, while mostly Hindu Indians are 10 percent.

Minorities often complain they don't have full freedom of religion even though the constitution guarantees everybody the right to worship.

In an affidavit made available to The AP, pastor Jerry Dusing said customs officials in August confiscated three boxes of education material for children from a church member who was transiting at the Kuala Lumpur airport.

He said he was informed later the publications were banned because the contained the word "Allah," which could raise confusion and controversy among Muslims. The Internal Security Ministry also told him the issue was sensitive and has been classified as a security issue, he said in the affidavit.

But Dusing said Christians in Sabah on Borneo island have used the word "Allah" for generations when they worship in the Malay language, and the word appears in their Malay Bible.

"The Christian usage of Allah predates Islam. Allah is the name of God in the old Arabic Bible as well as in the modern Arabic Bible," he said, adding Allah was widely used by Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Indonesia and other parts of the world without problem.

Dusing also said the confiscated material was for use only within the church.

The church is asking the court to declare their constitutional right to use the word "Allah" and for the right to import publications with the word in it, he said in the affidavit.

Dusing and internal security officials couldn't be reached immediately for comment.

Earlier this month, a Catholic weekly newspaper was told to drop "Allah" in its Malay-language section if it wants to renew its publishing permit.

Allah refers only to the Muslim God and can be used only by Muslims, government officials have said.
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