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Malaysia court strikes down ban on Christians using the word “Allah”

After a decades-long legal battle, a Malaysian court has overturned a policy banning Christians from using the word "Allah” in publications in the Muslim-majority country. On Wednesday, the Kuala Lumpur High Court deemed unconstitutional a thirty-five-year-old government ban on the use of “Allah” and three other Arabic words by Christian publications.


An earlier court ruling had stated that Allah should be reserved exclusively for Muslims, as the word “is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity” and could cause confusion among religious groups. 

Three other words — “kaabah” (Islam’s holiest shrine in Mecca), “baitullah” (house of God) and “solat” (prayer) — were also banned in a 1986 government directive.

This week, government counsel Shamsul Bolhassan was quoted as saying by CNA that the four words can now be used in Christian materials following the court’s ruling, as long as it clearly states that materials are intended for Christians only and a symbol of the cross is displayed.

The case began thirteen years ago when officials seized religious materials in the local Malay language from a Christian at Kuala Lumpur International Airport that contained the word “Allah.” The Christian woman — Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, a member of an indigenous group — then launched a legal challenge against the policy.

On Wednesday, the Kuala Lumpur High Court sided with her, ruling she had the right not to face discrimination on the grounds of her faith. The judge also ruled the ban on Christians using “Allah” was “unlawful and unconstitutional,” her lawyer Annou Xavier said.

“The court has now said the word Allah can be used by all Malaysians,” Xavier said, according to The Associated Press. “Today’s decision entrenches the fundamental freedom of religious rights for non-Muslims in Malaysia” enshrined in the constitution.

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