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UN rights experts urge Malaysia to reverse decision to restrict use of ‘Allah’ to Muslims

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Several independent UN human rights experts have urged the Malaysian government to reverse its decision to ban the Herald from using the word Allah, reports the UN News Centre.

Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt - UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt – UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Several independent United Nations human rights experts have urged the Malaysian Government to reverse its decision to ban a Catholic publication from using the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God, warning that the case may have far-reaching implications for religious minorities in the country.

“Freedom of religion or belief is a right of human beings, not a right of the State,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, stressed in a news release. “It cannot be the business of the State to shape or reshape religious traditions, nor can the State claim any binding authority in the interpretation of religious sources or in the definition of the tenets of faith.”

The Bahasa Malaysia, or standard Malay, translation for one God is ‘Allah’, which entered the language from Arabic and has been used by Christians in the region for many centuries, according to the press release.

In January 2009, the Ministry of Home Affairs ordered the newspaper Herald-The Catholic Weekly to stop using the word Allah or face losing its publication permit. The newspaper argued the ban was unconstitutional and won an appeal in the Malaysian High Court.

However, last month, the Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that non-Muslims cannot use ‘Allah’ to refer to God. It stated that the usage of the name Allah is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity.

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“Such usage, if allowed, would inevitably cause confusion within the community,” the appeals court judges ruled. The case is currently pending consideration at the Federal Court level.

Mr. Bielefeldt cautioned that “the current case may affect the right of all non-Muslims in Malaysia to use the word Allah while referring to God”.

Also speaking out is Rita Izsák, the Independent Expert on minority issues, who said discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief constitutes a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in this instance is a breach of the rights of a religious minority to freely practise and express their faith.

“Such actions may present an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations between faith communities,” she warned.

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, called on the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Malaysian Government to take steps to immediately secure the right to freedom of opinion and expression of the newspaper and withdraw unconditionally from further litigation on this issue.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Source: UN News Centre

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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4 Dec 2013 9.24am

Non Muslims may use the word Allah for God but must come to a common meaning with Muslims of this country of what Allah is.

Alternatively,they may use arabic ‘ilah’ to refer to god or ‘al-ilah’ (God).

najib manaukau
30 Nov 2013 7.50am

This expert is wasting his time insofar as his advice for Malaysia is concerned !
Records will show that Malaysia with Umno as the tenants of Putrajaya will do and act on anything they wish and want.
The Umno warlords are so used to get what they want that they appear deaf to calls on them to change, they are acting this way because they can continue to survive and as a result they have the illusion that they are thriving. In fact they are on their last term in Putrajaya and on their way not only out of Putrajaya but out of Malaysian politics completely. May be that is why they are acting the way they are, making hay while the sun shines !

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