Malaysian Catholic weekly told to drop use of ‘Allah’ in order to renew publishing permit

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: A Catholic weekly newspaper in Malaysia has been told to drop the use of the word “Allah” in its Malay language section if it wants to renew its publishing permit, a senior government official said Friday.

The Herald, the organ of Malaysia’s Catholic Church, has translated the word God as “Allah” but it is erroneous because Allah refers to the Muslim God, said Che Din Yusoff, a senior official at the Internal Security Ministry’s publications control unit.

While Malaysia has a secular legal system, the country is ruled by a ‘moderate’ Muslim majority.
“Muslims in Malaysia come under the purview of religious courts that are not part of the secular federal legal system. Any attempt to deviate from Islamic teachings, or to leave the religion, can bring harsh penalties from the religious courts.” [Source]

“Christians cannot use the word Allah. It is only applicable to Muslims. Allah is only for the Muslim god. This is a design to confuse the Muslim people,” Che Din told The Associated Press.

The weekly should instead, use the word “Tuhan” which is the general term for God, he said.

Religious issues are extremely sensitive in Malaysia, where about 60 percent of the 27 million people are Malay Muslims. Ethnic Chinese, who follow Christianity and Buddhism, account for 25 percent of the population. Indians, who are mostly Hindus with a sprinkling of Christians and Muslims, are around 10 percent.

The minorities have often complained that they don’t have full freedom of religion even though the constitution guarantees everybody the right to worship. The minorities cite the difficulty in obtaining permission to build their places of worship, and the Hindus have been particularly angered by the demolition of temples by government authorities in recent months.

The Herald, which has a circulation of 12,000 copies for its members, publishes reports in four languages — English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil.

The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, said the weekly’s use of the word Allah was not intended to offend Muslims.

“We follow the Bible. The Malay-language Bible uses Allah for God and Tuhan for Lord. In our prayers and in church during Malay mass, we use the word Allah,” he told the AP.

“This is not something new. The word Allah has been used in Malaysia for a long time. There is no confusion,” he said.

The 13-year-old weekly is still in talks with the authorities to renew its permit, which expires Dec. 31, he said, adding that they would appeal if the government refuses to budge on the issue.

Publishers in Malaysia are required to obtain annual permits from authorities under a printing law that has long been criticized by rights groups as infringing press freedoms.

There are more than 800,000 Catholics in Malaysia, Andrew said.

Che Din said Christians don’t use the word Allah when they worship in English, so they shouldn’t use it in the Malay language too.

There are four Malay words that must not be used by other religions, he said: Allah for God, “solat” for prayers, “kaabah” for the place of Muslim worship in Mecca and “baitula” the house of Allah.

The Herald’s permit will only be renewed if they stop using Allah in their publication, he stressed.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday December 21, 2007.
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