KUALA LUMPUR — A Malaysian court on Wednesday suspended a ruling that allowed a Catholic newspaper to use the word "Allah", after the government argued the decision could cause racial conflict.
Malaysia's high court ruled last week that the Herald weekly had the right to use the word "Allah", after a long-running dispute with the government in the Muslim-majority nation.
The paper has been using the word as a translation for "God" in its Malay-language section, but the government argued it should be used only by Muslims.
Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail welcomed the high court's decision to issue a stay order pending an appeal on the ruling in favour of the church, which triggered a series of protests from Muslim groups.
"I made the request for a stay as it is a matter of national interest," Abdul Gani said at the court.
"We do not want the matter delayed and cause all kinds of tensions in the country" he told reporters. "I believe the Court of Appeal will hear the case very soon."
The Herald's editor Father Lawrence Andrew warned of a campaign of intimidation including hacker attacks against the weekly's website, protest threats and widespread criticism in the media over last week's ruling.
"We believe these actions (are designed) to create a climate of fear and a perceived threat to national security so as to pressure the court in reversing its decision," he said in a statement.
Outside the court, Father Lawrence said the Herald had agreed to the suspension of the controversial ruling.
"We are Malaysians and we want to live in peace and happiness," he said. "We will be rational in our approach in facing this situation. We do not want opportunists to take advantage of this situation."
The Herald's lawyer Derek Fernandez urged the attorney-general to take action against those who criticised the court decision -- which include senior government figures -- in defiance of sub judice laws that bar such comments.
Prime Minister Najib Razak met the nation's king on Wednesday to explain the issue, according to a statement which said Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin had consented to the government's actions.
"While the appeal process is going on, it is our responsibility not to do anything that can jeopardise the interest and well-being of the people," Najib said according to the official news agency Bernama.
The row is among a string of religious disputes that have erupted in recent years, straining relations between Muslim Malays and minority ethnic Chinese and Indians who fear the country is being "Islamised".
Religion and language are sensitive issues in multiracial Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.
The Herald is printed in four languages, with a circulation of 14,000 a week in a country with about 850,000 Catholics.
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