This is a day of significance to me as a Muslim in Malaysia, as the Malaysian Government now officially allows Christians to use the word “Allah” as long as they state that the materials are meant only for Christians.
It is akin to the day when Johor switched its weekend holiday from Friday to Sunday, courtesy of the then Mentri Besar, Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Muhyiddin bin Mohd. Yassin.
The church still would continue with its suit to use the word ‘Allah’ without restriction. The hearing is in the High Court today.
Here are articles from today’s NST and yesterday’s Associated Press.
From the NST:
NST Online » Local News
Hamidah Atan and Marc Lourdes
PUTRAJAYA: Christian publications are now allowed to use the word “Allah” as long as they state that the materials are meant only for Christians.
Home Ministry Quran Publication Control and Text Division secretary Che Din Yusoh said this followed the gazetting on Feb 16 of a cabinet decision on this in 1986.
The cabinet decided that Christian publications could not use four words — Allah, Baitullah, Kaabah and solat (prayer) — unless the publications clearly stated that the materials were only meant for Christians.
“We decided to gazette the decision recently. However, those who fail to adhere to this condition will have their publications seized.”
The controversy over the use of the word broke out in late 2007, when the government banned its use in Christian Malay-language text for fear that it might confuse Muslims.
Herald, a publication by the Catholic Church, has challenged the ban in court.
Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew gave a conditional welcome to the decision to allow them to use the word “Allah.”
He said, however, the church would continue with its suit.
“We have to see how the courts will react to this. Gazetting this under the Internal Security Act (ISA) is still a restriction.
“If we did not put the phrase ‘for Christians only’ on the front cover of the paper, it means that anybody carrying it can be detained under the ISA.”
Andrew also pointed out that mass books and Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia also had the word “Allah” in them.
“Does that mean those carrying them can also be detained under the ISA?” he asked, pointing out that Arabic Bibles from the Middle East also used the word “Allah.”
In the Dewan Rakyat yesterday, a member of the opposition expressed regret at Andrew’s insistence on using the word “Allah” in Herald instead of God.
“Allah has always been used to describe God by Muslims. This has been defined in well-known dictionaries such as Britannica and Collins. I don’t understand how its editor can say Tuhan in Malay is Allah,” said Kulim Bandar Baru member of parliament Zulkifli Nordin during the debate on the royal address.
He felt Muslims would not object if the church wanted to publish the Bible in Malay.
“It’s okay if you say it is the national language. No objection here. But why use Allah?”
He also claimed leaflets in Bahasa Malaysia promoting Christianity were distributed in a Malay-majority school in Ampang with the word “Allah” used in reference to God.
“I have come across the Bible in Malay which is called Al Kitab. This is confusing to Muslims.”
From the Associated Press:
Feb 26, 6:35 AM EST
By JULIA ZAPPEI
Associated Press Writer
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — 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, a church official said Thursday.
The government had earlier argued that the use of Allah in Christian texts might confuse Muslims, who might think Allah refers to their God.
The revised order was issued Feb. 16 by Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, said the Rev. Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the Herald, the Roman Catholic Church’s main newspaper in Malaysia. He said the publication has already started printing “For Christianity” on its cover.
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.
Malaysia’s minorities have often complained that their constitutional right to practice their religions freely has come under threat from the Malay Muslim-dominated government. They cite destruction of Hindu temples and conversion disputes as examples. The government denies any discrimination.
Andrew, the Herald’s editor, said although the order “makes things easier” for the Herald, the newspaper will not drop a legal challenge against the ban. A court is due to hear arguments in the case Friday.
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.
He said most Malay-language Bibles in Malaysia are imported from Indonesia, which uses a variation of the same language.
“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.
Ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Home Minister Syed Hamid’s aide said he would not be available for comment until Monday.
© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.