02/25/2009, 00.00
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Malaysian government defeated by history: Christians have used the word "Allah" for centuries

On February 27, the diocese of Kuala Lumpur is going to court against the government, which has prohibited the use of the term for reasons of safety. But the Constitution and history are on the side of the Christians. The Minister of the Interior has given permission to use the word "Allah," but only if the phrase "for Christians only" is printed on the cover.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - Next February 27, the first hearing will be held in the lawsuit of the archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur and the Catholic weekly Herald against the government, which has prohibited the use of the word "Allah" in Catholic publications. All of the Christian Churches of Malaysia are closely following the battle, which is creating problems for them as well, with bans and confiscations of books and catechisms. The prohibition comes from the ministry of interior security, according to which the use of the word "Allah" in a non-Islamic publication "could create confusion and harm public order." The archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur is defending its right to use the word "Allah" by referring to article 10 of the Constitution (freedom of expression) and article 11 (freedom to practice one's own religion). Without even mentioning that the archdiocese has on its side more than four centuries of documented history, in which the use of this term on the part of Christians has never created problems. In fact, Christians used the word "Allah" to refer to "God" even before the existence of the Malaysian state.

For more than a year, the weekly Herald has been the target of a press campaign and of criticisms on the part of Islamic associations and newspapers, which demand that the use of the word "Allah" be reserved only for Muslims. This is due to the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the country, but also to the ambiguity of the legal system, which is secular in the Constitution, but influenced by religious membership and Islamic on the legislative level.

The central government seems not to want to expose itself too much in resolving the question, and is trying to find some sort of piecemeal solution. After the security minister prohibited the use of the word "Allah" and was taken to court, last February 16, in the official Gazette, the interior ministry published an order according to which all Christian publications are permitted to use the word "Allah," but only if the front page clearly states that the publication is "for Christians only."

For all of the Christian communities, this decision is insufficient. First of all, because it is "an exception" to a domestic security Order, which by norm affirms the "prohibition" of the use of the word "Allah." The second reason is historical. From extensive documentation compiled by the Catholics in recent months, it clearly emerges that Christians have used the word "Allah" for more than four centuries. A Malay-Latin dictionary printed in 1631 demonstrates that for the Latin word "Deus" ("God"), the Malay word is "Allah." This means that use of the term was widespread well before the publication of the dictionary. According to some Catholics, "the word ‘Allah’ is not a new word in the theological vocabulary of the Christians since the time of the Sultanate of Malacca [16th century], of the Straits Settlements [1826], of the Federation of Malaya [1948], and later of Malaysia [1963]." It is only in 1992 that a Malay dictionary appears defining the word "Allah" as "the God of Islam."

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