KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 -- It will be a glorious new year for some 850,000 Catholics in Malaysia.
In a landmark ruling today, the High Court here lifted the home minister's ban against the Catholic church publishing the word "Allah" to refer to the Christian God in its weekly paper, Herald.
Counsel for the Herald, Porres Royan, told reporters outside the crowded court, "The court has granted the declaration that the applicant has the Constitutional right to use the word Allah. I believe the ministry is bound by the court's decision."
Senior Federal counsel Datuk Kamaludin Md Said said, "I was made to understand the ministry has already issued the permit for 2010." The publishing permit for the Herald expires today.
He added that he will consult the ministry for new instruction, when asked about his next course of action.
The government had said that the ban was necessary to avoid confusing the majority Muslims in the country. Islam is the official religion in Malaysia.
But the church claimed the ban violates its constititutional rights to practice its religion freely.
According to Father Lawrence Andrew who edits Herald, the term "Allah" has been used by Christians in the region to refer to their God since four hundred years ago. He added that it is still actively used today.
Lawrence explained that "Allah" in the Christian context is used to refer to the trinitarian concept of "God the Father" which is different from the Muslim use of the verse to refer to the "one and only God."
Herald's editor claims the use of the word has not died out and is still being used in church worship among indigenous East Malaysians, who form a substantial number of the Christian faithful in the country.
The church first took the government to court last year after the home ministry threatened to revoke its annual publishing permit for Herald, Malaysia's only Catholic paper.
It was forced to refresh its suit again this year after its 2008 permit expired without any decision from the court. (By DEBRA CHONG/The Malaysian Insider)