A serious setback for religious freedom and minority protection

Malaysia: Supreme Court upholds "Allah" ban

According to the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), today's decision of the Malaysian Supreme Court that Christians are not allowed to use "Allah" as a translation for "God" is a serious setback concerning religious freedom and minority protection in the south-east Asian country. "This is a black day for the freedom of religion in south-eastern Asia. The only sign of hope is that the court's decision was only found by a narrow majority: three of the seven judges had expressed dissenting opinions, despite considerable pressure by Muslim extremists," said Ulrich Delius, the STP's Asia-consultant, in Göttingen on Monday, after the Supreme Court rejected a complaint by the Catholic church against a lower court's ruling in the "Allah controversy". Muslim demonstrators gathered in front of the Court building to welcome the decision.

In October 2013, an appeals court in Putrajaya near the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur decided that the Interior Ministry was right to forbid the Catholic Church newspaper "Herald" to translate the word "God" to "Allah". At the end of 2009, the ban against the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur – being the editor of the newspaper – had been declared unconstitutional at first instance. The Interior Ministry had appealed against the decision.

The Catholic Church argued that Malaysian Christians have been referring to their god as "Allah" ever since the first translation of the Bible more than 400 years ago. "The decision is a populist measure, a means to arbitrarily marginalize Christians and other religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim country," criticized Delius.

After the first court ruling in favor of the Archdiocese in late 2009, there were attacks against at least eleven Christian churches and a Sikh temple in Malaysia. The Christians make up about 9.2 percent of the population in the south-east Asian country. 6.3 percent are Hindu, while the Buddhists make up almost 20 percent. 61 percent are Muslims.


Ulrich Delius, head of STP's Asia department, is available for further questions: Tel. 0551 49906 27 or asien@gfbv.de.