Petaling Jaya (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Weekly Herald can continue publication in 2008 using the term ‘Allah’ when referring to ‘God.’ Malaysia’s Ministry of Internal Security has decided to reverse its early position and is allowing the Herald to continue unhindered, including its Bahasa Malaysia segment, which was supposed to be eliminated.
Fr Lawrence Andrew, the Herald’s editor, told AsiaNews that Sunday morning, 30 December, at 10 am, he received a letter dated 28 December from the Ministry of Internal Security renewing the paper’s permit for 2008.
“This letter places no restrictions whatsoever and includes the permit for all the languages, including the Bahasa Malaysia Segment,” he said.
On 10 December the same ministry, which is responsible for issuing media permits, had banned the Herald’s Bahasa Malaysia (Malay language) segment, warning the paper against using ‘Allah’ to refer to the Christian God, claiming that its use was reserved only for Muslims.
Father Andrew was forced to submit but did so under duress, slamming the government for denying his publication a right guaranteed under the constitution.
Some Protestant Churches had also been forced to submit to the same directive.
The Ministry’s position was anti-historical. According to a great many scholars and academics the term ‘Allah’ has been used by Arab Christians in the Middle East long before the birth of Islam and that the latter received the word from Christians. Christians in Malaysia began using in the 19th century.
The Herald prints about 12,000 copies and has readership of about 50,000 people. It is the only means of communication for Malaysia’s 850,000 Catholics (out of a population of 23 million). In addition to an English-Language segment, it also publishes in Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil.
Father Andrew thanked the government “for this gesture of goodwill” and “various news agencies and other media groups for supporting us with their wide coverage.”
In particular, the Herald’s editor expressed his special gratitude to Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, a Christian in service at the Prime Minister’s Office, “for his assistance” and defence of the Catholic Weekly.