Authorities in Malaysia have threatened not to renew the publishing license of a Catholic weekly newspaper if it continues to use the word "Allah" in its Malay language section, Catholic and government officials said.
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 department, in remarks monitored by BosNewsLife. 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 added.
However church sources say the Malay-language Bible uses Allah for God. 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, Reverend Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, told reporters.
Yet, Che Din said 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
weekly should instead, use the word "Tuhan" which is the general term for God, he reportedly said.
The Herald's permit will only be renewed in two weeks if they stop using Allah in their publication.
A church and Christian newspaper in Malaysia are suing the government after it decreed that the word "Allah" can only be used by Muslims.
In the Malay language "Allah" is used to mean any god, and Christians say they have used the term for centuries.
A spokesman for the Herald, the newspaper of the Catholic Church in Malaysia, said a legal suit was filed after they received repeated official warnings that the newspaper could have its licence revoked if it continued to use the word.
We are of the view that we have the right to use the word 'Allah', said editor Rev Lawrence Andrew.
The Sabah Evangelical Church of Borneo has also taken legal action after a government ministry moved to ban the import of religious children's books containing the word.
In a statement given to Reuters news agency, the church said the translation of the bible in which the word Allah appears has been used by Christians since the earliest days of the church.
There has been no official government comment but parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said the decision to ban the word for non-Muslims on security grounds was "unlawful": The term 'Allah' was used to refer to God by
Arabic-speaking Christians before Arabic-speaking Muslims existed .
The Malaysian government has reiterated that non-Muslims cannot use the word ''Allah,'' sparking concern Friday among Christians who
use it to refer to God in their Malay-language Bible and other publications.
Abdullah Zin, the de facto minister for Islamic affairs, told reporters that the Cabinet is of the view that ''Allah'' refers to the Muslim God and can only be used by Muslims.
The use of the word 'Allah' by non-Muslims may arouse sensitivity and create confusion among Muslims in the country, Abdullah said.
His statement is the latest twist in a long-drawn controversy involving The Herald, a weekly organ of Malaysia's Catholic Church. It was told by the Internal Security Ministry last month that its Malay-language section would be banned unless it
stops using ''Allah'' as a synonym for God.
But the paper was surprised when the ministry made an apparent about-turn last weekend by renewing its annual permit - a government requirement for all publications in Malaysia - without imposing any conditions. The paper assumed it was a tacit
approval for the use of ''Allah.''
Abdullah's comments Thursday, however, threw the issue into fresh confusion, and will likely renew complaints by ethnic minorities that their rights are increasingly undermined because of government efforts to bolster the status of Islam,
Malaysia's official religion.
The Herald's editor, Rev. Lawrence Andrew, said its latest issue on Wednesday still uses ''Allah,'' but he could not say whether upcoming editions would omit the word.
He declined to comment further, noting the paper has initiated court action to get a legal endorsement for what it says is its Constitutional right to use ''Allah.''
Adding to the furor over whether non-Muslims have the right to use the word “Allah” in their publications and religious practice, it
is reported that officials confiscated English-language Christian children’s books because they contained images of prophets.
The government reportedly said Internal Security Ministry officials confiscated the books because their illustrations of prophets offended the sensitivities of Muslims. Islam, which shares some prophets in common with Christianity, prohibits the
portrayal of prophets.
Enforcement officials of the Publications and Al-Quran Texts Control Department under the Internal Security Ministry reportedly confiscated the books from three bookstores in Johor Bahru, Senawang and Ipoh in mid-December.
The books have been sent to the department’s headquarters in Putrajaya for investigation. Managers of the MPH bookstores reportedly said they will wait for the Internal Security Ministry’s decision on the books.
In a statement released on January 17 , the Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri, general-secretary of the Council of Churches Malaysia questioned how the books could be offensive to Muslims when they were not meant for them. In the strongly worded statement
about the seizures, Shastri said government officials have no right and have overstepped their bounds by confiscating Christian literature.
He urged the prime minister and his Cabinet to take immediate action to put a stop to such seizures and to amend administrative rules and regulations especially in the Internal Security Ministry that give a free hand to enforcement officials to
act at their whim and fancies.
At the same time, the debate over whether non-Muslims can use the word “Allah” in publications and religious practice was stoked when the Internal Security Ministry told the Sun on January 16 that it had confiscated a total of 163 publications
comprising 18 titles from bookshops nationwide.
A ministry official told the daily that the seizures were made because the word “Allah” was used in the books. But Deputy Internal Ministry Minister Johari Baharum reportedly said that the ministry did not target Christian books.
The lawsuit by the archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur against the government of Malaysia has been adjourned until April 29. The archdiocese is claiming the right to use the word "Allah" in its Catholic weekly, the Herald.
The standoff over the use of the word "Allah" is just one more chapter in the difficulties facing the majority Muslim country, where a secular constitution is accompanied by Islamic courts charged with applying sharia.
On December 10, the domestic security ministry had prohibited the Malay-language section of the Herald from using the word "Allah" to designate the Christian God, claiming it could be used in this way only by Muslims. Fr Andrew Lawrence, the
director of the newspaper, was forced to accept the restriction, but the archdiocese decided to sue the government.
The archbishop of the capital, Murphy Pakiam, maintains that the domestic security minister and the federal government are making a mistake: I am advised by my solicitors that I have a legal right to use the word 'Allah' in the Herald, and this legal
right stems from the right to freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.
Archbishop Pakiam further reports that he has been under constant pressure from the government to conform to the "directives". At the same time, numerous threats have been issued, creating a climate of "apprehension".
The bishop concludes by describing as unreasonable and irrational" the justification of the ministry, according to which the use of the word "Allah" is a security issue which is purportedly causing much confusion and which
threatens and endangers peace, public order and security". Over thirteen years of publication, he adds, no article in the Herald has ever caused any incidents.
A Roman Catholic newspaper cleared its first legal hurdle in its fight against a Malaysian government ban on Christians using the word
"Allah" as a synonym for "God."
High Court Judge Lau Bee Lan ruled that prosecutors' objection to a lawsuit by The Herald weekly was without merit. The judge said she will allow the paper to contest the government ban in court.
The government says the word "Allah" refers only to the Muslim God and its use by Christians might confuse Muslims. It has threatened to revoke the paper's publishing license if it defies the order.
The Herald also wants a court declaration that "Allah" is not for exclusive use by Muslims. The court agreed that the church's application is not frivolous nor vexatious nor an abuse of process. It deserves to be heard, said Derek
Fernandez, a lawyer for the newspaper.
The court will set a trial date later, Fernandez told reporters.
The Herald insists that "Allah" is an Arabic word that predates Islam and has been used for centuries to mean "God" in Malay.
In a separate case in Malaysia, the Sabah Evangelical Church of Borneo has also filed a lawsuit in an effort to be allowed to use "Allah" after officials last year banned the import of books containing the word. Hearings in that case were still
in the preliminary stages.
A Malaysian court hearing the appeal by an evangelical church to use the word "Allah" in its
Sunday School materials has been adjourned to next month.
The Evangelical Church of Borneo, otherwise known as SIB (Sidang Injil Borneo), and its president Pastor Jerry Dusing filed the appeal at the High Court against the Internal Security Ministry and the Malaysian Government.
The hearing will resume on November 12.
On August 15 last year, SIB was preparing to bring in three cartons containing six different publications from Indonesia to be used as Sunday School materials when they were withheld by a customs officer and later handed over to the Internal
Security Ministry (ISM.
Nearly a month later, Dusing received a letter from the ISM stating that the import of the publications had been denied, that Christian publications containing the word “Allah” cannot be distributed in Malaysia. The letter also stated that the
publications can raise confusion and controversy in Malaysian society.
In response the church sent an appeal letter dated September 24 to the minister, stating that the previous prime minister had allowed the use of the word “Allah” in their publications.
The Catholic Church in Malaysia has lost its latest bid to use 'Allah' as a translation for 'God' in its newspaper pending a
further court case now set for 7th July 2009.
High Court judge Lau Bee Lan made the decision after hearing submissions from two counsels for the applicant, Archbishop Datuk Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam, and two counsels for the respondent, the Home Ministry, according to Bernama, Malaysian
National News Agency.
A spokesmand for the Home Ministry told reporters outside the chambers that if the High Court allowed the church to use ‘Allah' in a non-Muslim context, it would be helping the church to commit an offense under state laws. This means that the
church's weekly news publication, The Herald, cannot use the word until the court decides.
The Rev Father Lawrence Andrew, who edits the Catholic weekly, was disappointed with the outcome: We had asked them to lift the ban so that we can use the word until the court decides. We are innocent until proven guilty, so why shouldn't we
use it, Father Andrew told AFP: The court is going to hear our case on July 7 so that's an opening in the dark tunnel.
Under the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of non-Islamic Religious Enactment passed into law by 10 states in 1988, it is an offence for non-Muslims to use the word ‘Allah' to refer to any God other than the Muslim God.
Malaysia should reverse a ban on a Christian newspaper using the word Allah to refer to the christian religious character called God, a UN official said about a decision that fanned religious tension in the mainly Muslim country.
The UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said in statement:
Freedom of religion or belief is a right of human beings, not a right of the state. It cannot be the business of the state to shape or reshape religious traditions, nor can the state claim any binding authority in the interpretation of religious sources
or in the definition of the tenets of faith.
Malaysia has banned an Ultraman comic book because it uses the word Allah to describe the Japanese action hero.
The Home Ministry claimed in a statement that the Malay-edition of Ultraman, The Ultra Power contained elements that can undermine public security and societal morals. It claimed Ultraman is idolised by many children and equating the
lead character, Ultraman King, with Allah would especially confuse Muslim children and damage their faith .
The government demands that the word Allah should be exclusively reserved for Muslims because of concerns its use by others would confuse Muslims and tempt them to convert. It also warned that use of the word can provoke the community and threaten
Ultraman is a fictional Japanese superhero who fights monsters and first appeared on television in the 1960s. A line in the book said Ultraman is considered and respected as Allah, or the Elder, to all ultra heroes .
Malaysia's highest court has rejected a challenge to the ban on Christians using the word Allah to refer to their god, in a highly divisive legal case.
The case was brought by the Catholic Church, which sought to overturn a ban first put in place in 2007. But the Federal Court said an earlier ruling backing the ban was correct.
The case began over the use of Allah to refer to the Christian god in the Catholic Church's Malay-language paper. Christians argue they have used the word, which entered Malay from Arabic, to refer to their god for centuries and that the ruling
violates their rights.
Malaysian authorities claim its use by Christians could confuse easily confused Muslims and lead some to convert to Christianity.
This ruling was handed down by a seven-member panel, which voted by 4-3 to dismiss the challenge.
Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew said he was greatly disappointed by the judgement which didn't touch on the fundamental rights of minorities .
Reports in Malaysian newspapers suggested the Church could call for a review of the decision.