- The Washington Times - Friday, January 1, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia | A Malaysian court ruled Thursday that Christians have the constitutional right to use the word Allah to refer to God, striking down a government ban as illegal.

The landmark ruling appeared to be a victory for freedom of religion in the Muslim-majority country, where the ban had become a symbol of what minorities say is institutionalized religious discrimination.

Government lawyers said they will consult with the Home Ministry before deciding whether to appeal Judge Lau Bee Lan’s verdict in a higher court, where the ban could still be reinstated. They have one month to appeal.

Judge Lau said in her judgment that Christians have the “constitutional right to use Allah” and that the Home Ministry is “not empowered” to impose the ban.

She was ruling on a lawsuit filed in late 2007 by the Herald, the Malaysian Roman Catholic Church’s main publication, after the government blocked non-Muslims from translating God as Allah in their literature.

“This is indeed a landmark case for our nation,” the Herald’s editor, the Rev. Lawrence Andrew, said in a statement. He said the verdict upholds constitutional liberties of freedom of speech, expression and religion.

Authorities have insisted that Allah is an Islamic word that should be used exclusively by Muslims, and its use by other religions would be misleading.

The ban had affected the Malay-language edition of the Herald, which is read mostly by indigenous tribes who converted to Christianity decades ago. The Mandarin, English and Tamil editions do not use the word Allah.

About 60 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people are Muslim Malays. A third of the population is ethnic Chinese and Indian, and many practice Christianity.

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