Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia’s highest court has rejected the Catholic Church’s application to appeal a ban on its use of the word “Allah” in the Malay-language section of its newspaper, the Catholic Herald, bringing to an end a protracted legal battle over constitutional rights.
The five-man panel, headed by Federal Court Judge Abdul Hamid Embong, on Wednesday dismissed unanimously the application, the second by the Church.
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The bench said there was no indication of any “procedural unfairness” in the court’s earlier decision not to allow the Church’s appeal.
“We’re very, very disappointed,” said Father Lawrence Andrew, the Editor of the Herald who was in court for the decision.
“The case is closed forever for us. We cannot take it any further. We have taken it to the highest court and tried our very best. We have to accept the verdict,” he told Al Jazeera.
Malay-speaking Malaysians, mostly indigenous people from the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, have long used “Allah” as the Malay translation for “God”, but in 2008 the government threatened to withdraw the paper’s permit if it continued using the word.
The Catholic Church sought a judicial review and the High Court ruled in 2009 that it was Malay-speaking Christians’ constitutional right to use the word, which is widely used by Christians in Indonesia and much of the Middle East.
The government appealed the decision, arguing that the use of the word, “Allah”, was the exclusive right of Muslims and that allowing Christians to use it would cause confusion and create religious tension. The 2009 decision was followed by a number of attacks on churches.
In Wednesday’s application, the Church focused on the need to address fully the constitutional issues raised, but in its view not fully answered, by the legal process.
More than 60 percent of Malaysia’s population is ethnic Malay and Muslim, but the country has sizable communities of Chinese, Indian and indigenous people. Less than ten percent of Malaysians are Christian.