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    Jun 24, 2014

    Top Malaysian court rejects bid to use word 'Allah'


    MALAYSIA'S highest court yesteday dismissed a bid by Christians for the right to use the word "Allah", in another chapter of a years-long legal battle that has escalated religious tensions in the Muslim-majority country.

    The government had previously banned the use of "Allah" in the local Malay-language edition of the Catholic Church's Herald newspaper, which had angered Muslims, who say Christians are overstepping religious boundaries.

    A seven-judge panel in the administrative capital Putrajaya ruled that a lower court decision siding with the government stood.

    "It (the Court of Appeal) applied the correct test, and it is not open for us to interfere," Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria said.

    Analysts termed the ruling a "vote-winner" for the government.

    S. Selvarajah, one of the church's lawyers, said his team would explore further ways to challenge the ban.

    "It's a blanket ban. Non-Muslims cannot use the word. It has a major impact," he said.

    The Herald editor, Father Lawrence Andrew, said the judgment "didn't touch on the fundamental rights of minorities".

    "We are greatly disappointed by this judgment," he said.

    The Christian Federation of Malaysia said the Christian community will continue to use the word "Allah" in their Bibles, church services and gatherings, despite the Federal Court's decision.

    Chairman Eu Hong Seng said it will "treat the decision of the Court of Appeal as being confined to the specific facts of that particular case", referring to an earlier statement by Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail that the case surrounds the usage of the word "Allah" in The Herald newspaper only.

    Outside the court, which was cordoned off, about a hundred Muslim activists cheered the news of the verdict.

    "I'm very pleased and happy that we have won the case. I hope the issue will be put to rest," said Ibrahim Ali, head of Muslim rights group Perkasa.

    "We must defend 'Allah' because this is our religious obligation. I hope other communities, including Christians, understand this."