Shocked, but Not Surprised: Court in Malaysia Bars Non-Muslims from Using ‘Allah’

Arabic word pre-dating Islam common in Malay-language Bibles.

(Morning Star News) – The ruling today by an appeals court in Malaysia to ban non-Muslims from using the word Allah to refer to God is shocking but not surprising.

Borrowed from the Arabic like other words in the Malay language, Allah is the common word for God in Malay Bibles. The word predates Islam, and Christians in Malaysia have pointed out that if the ruling is to be enforced, their very Bibles will have to be discarded. The appeals court ruled that if use of Allah is not exclusive to Muslims, it will cause “public disorder.”

Thus the ruling manages to simultaneously violate both freedom of speech and freedom of religion – shocking to Western ears, but not surprising. As the BBC notes in a brief commentary, many Christians in Malaysia expected the ruling, believing it came in a bid by the coalition government’s main party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), to secure Islamic votes. Christians are well aware that Islamist opposition to use of the word Allah by non-Muslims is rooted in fear that it could provide a point of entry for Muslims converting to Christianity.

The population in Malaysia is nearly 63 percent Muslim, according to Operation World, and Sunni Islam is the official religion. Christians in Malaysia, including many from the ethnic Chinese that account for 31 percent of the population, say they will continue to use the word Allah in spite of the ruling. At 2.6 million people, Christians account for nearly 13 percent of the country’s population.

The appeals court ruling by three Muslim judges overturned a 2009 decision allowing The Herald, a Malay-language Catholic weekly, to use the word. Several church buildings were subsequently set ablaze, along with a few mosques.

The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of The Herald, was quoted as saying he was “disappointed and dismayed” by the appeals court ruling, which he called a “retrograde step in the development of law in relation to the fundamental liberty of religious minorities.”


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  2. I always understood that there was only one God. It would seem Malysian muslims are arguing there is another that belongs to the Christians who goes by a different name.

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