A Malaysian court Wednesday temporarily suspended its decision to let non-Muslims use the word “Allah,” pending an appeal by the government in a case that raised religious tensions in the Muslim-majority country.
High Court Judge Lau Bee Lan said her December 31 ruling will not take effect until the Appeals Court decides on an appeal by the Home Ministry. No date has been set for the Appeals Court hearing.
Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail welcomed the suspension.
“The faster the matter is settled the better it will be for everybody in the country. As far as I am concerned it is a matter of national interest,” he said.
In her landmark decision, Lau struck down a 3-year-old ban on “Allah” being used by non-Muslims as a translation for God. The decision was seen as a victory for ethnic minorities, who practice Christianity, Hinduism and other religions.
Lau ruled on a petition by The Herald, the main publication of Malaysia’s Roman Catholic Church, which uses the word Allah to refer to God in its Malay-language edition read by indigenous Christian tribes in the remote states of Sabah and Sarawak.
The government says Allah, an Arabic word that predates Islam, is exclusive to Muslims, and its use by others would be misleading. Many Muslim activists say indiscriminate use of the word would entice Muslims to convert to Christianity. They ignore the argument that “Allah” is used widely by Christians in Muslim-majority countries such as Egypt, Syria and Indonesia in their worship.
Since the December 31 decision, Malaysia has been roiled by angry blogs and commentaries by Muslims on the Internet. Government ministers have blasted the decision and The Herald’s Web site has been hacked three times and plastered with profanities and veiled threats.
Muslim Malays comprise 60 percent of Malaysia’s 28 million people. Ethnic Chinese, Indians and indigenous tribes, who are ethnically Malay, make up the rest.
The Herald’s lawyers raised no objection Wednesday to Lau’s decision to suspend her ruling.
“We have agreed to the stay in the national interest,” said attorney Derek Fernandez. The Herald’s editor, the Rev. Lawrence Andrew, said: “We want to be rational. We don’t want to be emotional.”
Somebody’s gotta do it.
Minorities in Malaysia increasingly complain of religious discrimination.
The government denies any discrimination. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion.