Constitutional Developments in the Muslim World

A weekly section that covers updates on constitutional design and key constitution-related news in the Muslim World

Week of October 14, 2013

  • Malaysia

The Malaysian Court of Appeal ruled on October 14 that non-Muslims may not use the word “Allah” to refer to God.  In the ruling, Chief Judge Mohamed Apandi said that “the usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity,” and that “the usage of the word [by non-Muslims] will cause confusion in the community.”  The court interpreted Article 3(1) of the Malaysian Constitution, which states that “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation,” to mandate that Islam be protected and “insulated against any threat.”

The controversy began in 2009 when the Home Ministry banned and threatened to revoke the permit of the Herald, a newspaper published by the Malaysian Catholic Church, for using the word Allah in its Malay version.  This prompted the church to sue the government for violating its constitutional rights.  On December 31, 2009, the High Court lifted the ban and ruled that the church had the constitutional right to use the word Allah based on the practice guarantee to other religions in Article 3(1).

The Court of Appeal’s controversial decision comes amid escalating ethnic and religious tensions in Malaysia following the country’s turbulent general elections of May 2013. Malaysians of different faiths have long been using the term “Allah” to refer to God, and Malaysian Christian churches vowed to continue to use it despite the ruling. Editor of the Herald, Rev. Lawrence Andrew, confirmed that the newspaper plans to appeal the ruling to the Malaysian Federal Court.

  •  Turkey

The Turkish Supreme Court has reversed a local Istanbul court ruling that allowed a divorced mother to change the last names of her son to her own last name, stating that “having the right of custody is not enough to change surnames.”  The court’s ruing maintained that “such practice would damage the credibility of birth records and harm stability, as well as create very deep traumas on the psychology of the child.”  The Supreme Court added that the father’s surname was the surname of the “family,” and that a child could use the mother’s last name only if the divorce had occurred before birth.

By Salma Waheedi, Juris Doctor Candidate (2014), Northwestern University School of Law

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Constitutional Developments

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