01/05/2008, 00.00
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Islamic Minister countermands order: Catholic weekly cannot use “Allah”

One week on from permission to publish “without restrictions”, fresh obstacles arrive. Tensions underline multi-ethnic coexistence. The issue undermines Badawi’s moderate policies.

Petaling Jaya (AsiaNews) –Malaysia’s Catholic weekly, the Herald, cannot use the word “Allah” to refer to the Christian God.  The Minister for Islamic affairs reiterated, countermanding indications received by the journal less then a week ago.

Abdullah Mohd Zin, the Minister in charge of Islamic affairs, said that “"Allah" 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”.

His statement came a week after the government renewed the publishing permit of The Herald, “without restrictions”, for its English and Malay editions.  Editor, Fr. Lawrence Andrew, told AsiaNews that the lack of restrictions presupposed permission to use the word “Allah”.

Experts note that, “Allah” has been used for centuries by Arab Christians well before Islam, and that in Malay ‘Allah’ is the common word to indicate ‘God’.

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.

P. Andrew points out that the possibility of “confusing Muslims” is unfounded:  “The publication is only for internal circulation. We have no Muslim subscribers”.

The tug of war over the use of the word ‘Allah’ is only the latest chapter in the difficulties which the country is currently experiencing, with a secular constitution and a strong Islamic community which tends towards fundamentalism.

The Catholic Church has taken its fight to the Supreme Court. The Evangelical Church of Borneo (Sidang Injil Borneo), has also petitioned the court. It has received an injunction on importing Christian books which contain the word “Allah”.

The case now risks heightening tensions among the different ethnic and religious communities in Malaysia.  Yesterday a Sikh leader, told Singapore’s Strait Times 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.

Out of 27 million inhabitants, Muslim Malays count for 60% and dominate the political scene; 25% are of Chinese origin, and highly influential in the economy, while only 10% is represented by Indians. Buddhist count for 19.2%, Christians 9.1% and Hindu 6.3%. Catholics amount to less than one million.


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