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No ruling on the use of 'Allah'

Published:Thursday | January 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Malaysia (AP):

A Malaysian court temporarily suspended its decision to let non-Muslims use the word 'Allah' to refer to God yesterday, 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 a petition 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.

Prime Minister Najib Razak called for calm, with his office issuing a statement saying that everyone should await the outcome of the appeal and not "do anything that can jeopardise the interest and well-being of the people".

Religious discrimination

In her landmark decision, Lau struck down a three-year-old ban on the use of 'Allah' to refer to a God other than the Muslim one. The decision was seen as a victory for ethnic minorities, who practice Christianity, Hinduism and other religions. These groups have been increasingly complaining of religious discrimination, a charge the government denies.

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.

Government ministers have blasted the December 31 decision, and The Herald's Web site has been hacked three times and plastered with profanities and veiled threats. Muslim Malays make up 60 per cent of Malaysia's 28 million people. Ethnic Chinese, Indians and indigenous tribal people, who are ethnically Malay, make up the rest.