KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 17 — The word “Allah” is reserved only for followers of Islam and non-Muslims must stop challenging this absolute right, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said today ahead of the long-simmering dispute that will return to court next week.
The home minister also urged Muslim groups to unite and defend against what he seemed to view as an attempt to undermine their religion by non-followers, as the local Catholic Church applied to uphold a landmark High Court ruling that allows Christians the right to also call their god by the Middle Eastern word.
“We respect other religions but for this issue, we want followers of other religious beliefs to respect Islam’s stance on this.
“This is not a matter of rights but this is more than an absolute right, the word ‘Allah’ is an absolute right for Islam, full stop,” he told reporters at the Persatuan Pengasih Malaysia’s Aidilfitri celebration here.
The tussle over the word “Allah” will return to the courts on August 22, when the Court of Appeal hears the Catholic Church’s bid to strike out Putrajaya’s appeal against the 2009 High Court ruling upholding the Christians’ right to use the Arabic word.
The hearing will be the first time the matter has returned to the legal arena since it was left to languish for nearly four years after the government contested the landmark decision that had shocked Muslims in Malaysia.“I urge Muslims and leaders of Muslim organisations to agree to defend the word “Allah” and put aside political differences or any differences in interpretation or any individual’s or organisation’s personal interest.
“I don’t want this statement to be a contempt of court or to pre-empt the Court of Appeal’s decision but what is important is this issue of using the word ‘Allah’ has to end and not be politicised,” Ahmad Zahid said.
The “Allah” row first erupted in 2008 when the home ministry, then under Tan Sri Syed Hamid Syed Jaafar Albar, threatened to revoke the Herald’s newspaper permit, prompting the Catholic Church to sue the government for violating its constitutional rights.
In 2009, the High Court made a landmark ruling in favour of the Catholic Church, when it said the Middle Eastern word was not the exclusive right of Muslims and the Herald could publish it in its Bahasa Malaysia section, which caters to its Bumiputera congregation.
In January 2010, the Home Ministry filed an appeal, but there was a three-year hiatus before the dates were fixed for hearing at the Court of Appeal.