Malaysia to allow Christians to use ‘Allah’
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: The Malaysian government has softened an earlier ban on the use of the word “Allah” by Christian publications to refer to God and is allowing them to use it as long as they specify the material is not for Muslims.
The government had earlier argued that the use of Allah in Christian texts might confuse Muslims, who might think Allah refers to their God.
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The revised order was issued Feb. 16 by Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, according to the Rev. Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the Herald, the Roman Catholic Church’s main newspaper in Malaysia.
The Herald publishes weekly in English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay with an estimated readership of 50,000. The ban on “Allah” concerns mainly the Malay edition, which is read mostly by indigenous Christian tribes in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak. The other three editions usually do not use the word “Allah.”
The dispute has become symbolic of increasing religious tensions in Malaysia, where 60 percent of the 27 million people are Muslim Malays. A third of the population is ethnic Chinese and Indian, and many of them practice Christianity.
The Herald is arguing that the Arabic word is a common reference for God that predates Islam and has been used for centuries as a translation in Malay.
Andrew said the new order is still a violation of religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution because Christians will not be able to use any literature that does not carry the warning on the cover, including much imported material.
“If this (order) is enforced, it will be difficult to possess materials … from Indonesia, and thus practicing our religion will not be easy. This goes against … the constitution,” he told The Associated Press.
Andrew said the order also prohibits the use of three other Arabic words — “solat,” or prayer, “Kaaba,” a holy site in Saudi Arabia, and “baitullah,” or house of God — without the warning.
Malaysian paper allowed to use ‘Allah’
The Herald, circulated among the country’s 850,000 Catholics, nearly lost its publishing licence last year for using the disputed word.
Andrew welcomed the decision on the issue which is one of several wrangles between the government and minority groups, who say their rights are being eroded amid increasing “Islamisation” of the country.
“People are able to discuss this openly and maturely, that’s a good sign,” he said.
However, Andrew said the Herald would continue with a court case which it started to force the government to allow it to print the word “Allah.”
“We have started the case and we just can’t pull out until we … study the new gazette, and see what the implications are,” he said.
Home Ministry officials were not immediately available to confirm the decision, but in newspaper reports they confirmed the contents of the gazette.
Around 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 27 million people are Muslim Malays.
The rest of the population takes in indigenous tribes as well as ethnic Chinese and Indians, variously practising Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, among others.