Christians in Malaysia can now use the Arabic word ‘Allah’ in religious publications

A Malay-language Bible with the word ‘Allah.’ Original photo:
A Malay-language Bible with the word ‘Allah.’ Original photo:

In 1986, Malaysia’s Home Ministry banned Christians from using the Arabic words “Allah,” or God, “Baituallah (house of God)”, “Solat (prayer)” and “Kaabah” in non-Islamic religious publications, citing threats to national security. 

Today, the Kuala Lumpur high court has ruled that the ministry had acted “unreasonably, illegally and irrationally” at the time and declared the ban invalid.

Judge Noor Bee Ariffin said this while delivering her decision in the case of a Sarawak Christian woman who had her CDs confiscated by authorities because they contained the word “Allah.” 

Jill Ireland filed a judicial review of the ban 13 years ago. After 12 adjournments, Ireland and other fellow Christians finally earned their right to use those words. 

“The applicant is guaranteed to practice her faith without discrimination,” the judge said today, noting that Ireland had presented affidavits from three Muslims saying that they were not confused by Christians using the word “Allah.” The ban previously forced Christian publications to adopt the Malay word “tuhan” when referring to God. 

Ireland filed for the judicial review in 2008 when eight of her CDs that used the words “Allah” in the titles were seized by customs officials at the airport. The court only heard her constitutional challenge four years ago. Her CDs were returned to her in 2015.

In her application, she had sought a declaration that it was her constitutional right to access those religious publications. She also asked that the court declare the Home Ministry’s 1986 government directive via a circular to ban the word “Allah” in Christian publications unconstitutional and unlawful. 

Mahathir Mohamad was Malaysia’s home and prime minister when the circular dated Dec. 5, 1986 was issued.

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