06 January 2008
Malaysia: Kristen dilarang pakai "Allah"
Malaysia: Catholic Paper Can't Use 'Allah' After All
By CAROLYN HONG
The Straits Times,
4 January 2008
Malaysia has ruled that a Catholic newspaper cannot use the word 'Allah' to refer to God, clarifying reports that it had reversed an earlier ban on the use of the word by non-Muslims.
Abdullah Mohd Zin, the Minister in charge of Islamic affairs, said on Thursday (3 Jan) that "Allah" can only be used by Muslims. His statement came a week after the government renewed the publishing permit of The Herald, a weekly publication of the Catholic Church that comes in four languages, including Malay.
The church was earlier told that its permit would not be renewed. It was also told to stop using "Allah" in its publications.
"The use of the word 'Allah' by non-Muslims may arouse sensitivity and create confusion among Muslims in the country," Abdullah said.
The controversy is the latest in a spate of religious disputes that have strained race relations.
There had been controversies involving conversions to Islam that resulted in custody disputes, forcible separation of spouses, and tussles over bodies of deceased converts.
Abdullah said it had long been the practice in Malaysia that the word "Allah" refers to God in the Muslim faith only.
The Herald's editor, Father Lawrence Andrew, told The Straits Times that when the permit was renewed on Dec 28, no restrictions were stipulated, and it was assumed that the word "Allah" would be allowed.
However, Abdullah has now said the restrictions will remain, following a decision by the Cabinet in November last year.
The other banned words are "solat" (prayer), "Kaabah" (Islam's holiest shrine in Mecca) and "Baitullah" (House of God). The Christian literature does not use these words.
In 2002, the Herald was also asked to stop using the word "Allah" but after an appeal to the then Cabinet of former premier Mahathir Mohamad, it was allowed to continue doing so.
"The publication is only for internal circulation. We have no Muslim subscribers," Father Lawrence said.
The Catholic Church has taken its fight to court. It is seeking an order that it be allowed to use "Allah" in its publications. The case is pending.
A church in Sabah has filed a separate suit against the government over its ban on importing Christian books that contain the word "Allah".
On Friday (4 Jan), a Sikh leader, Harcharan Singh, said his people also use the word "Allah" in their prayers.
Political scientist Farish Noor wrote in an article on his website that this fiasco over a "non-issue" suggests that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's vision of a moderate Islam is floundering.