Malaysia will allow the Malay edition of a Catholic newspaper to resume publication, lifting a ban imposed for its use of the word “Allah,” an official said Thursday (8 Jan) a move likely aimed at assuaging the anger of minorities in this Muslim-majority country.
The Herald, the country’s main Roman Catholic newspaper, will not be allowed to use “Allah” as a translation for “God,” however, said Che Din Yusoh, a senior official with the ministry’s publications control unit.
“If they stop printing the word ‘Allah,’ they can publish anytime,” Che Din told The Associated Press. “You can use another word. It’s permissible for us,” he said, adding that the decision would be conveyed to the Herald by Friday (9 Jan).
The Home Ministry had ordered the Herald last week to stop printing its Malay edition for violating a 2007 ban on the use of the word “Allah,” except to refer to the Muslim God. The government says using the word could confuse Muslims, even though the newspaper is read almost exclusively by Christians.
The majority Malays, who form 60% of the country’s 27 million people, are all Muslims, and speak and read the Malay language. Islam is the country’s official religion.
Malay is also spoken by many indigenous Christian tribes in Sabah and Sarawak states, who read the Herald’s Malay edition. The newspaper has continued to publish its English, Mandarin and Tamil editions.
The Herald has challenged the ban on “Allah” in court, saying that the translation has been used for centuries and that the Arabic word is a common reference to God that predates Islam. It says the ban is unconstitutional and threatens the religious freedom of the minorities.
Until the court delivers a verdict, however, the newspaper is willing to stop using the word to avoid further confrontation, said the Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald.
“We welcome this new view … giving us back the right to use our national language,” he told the AP.
A court decision is not likely anytime soon. The Herald has long been at odds with the government, which has accused it of overstepping its boundaries by commenting on politics and other sensitive issues.
Ethnic Chinese, Indians and other minorities, who are mainly Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, have been angered by sporadic demolition of Hindu temples, court rulings about the right to leave Islam and other religious disputes. AP