The Malaysian gov’t reversed a ban imposed on the country’s main Catholic newspaper after using the Arabic word “Allah” to refer to God.CAIRO The Malaysian government has reversed a ban imposed on the Malay-language section of the country’s main Catholic newspaper, The Herald, after using the Arabic word “Allah” to refer to God, reported The Star on Monday, December 31.
Print publications in Malaysia require a government permit renewed every year.
The controversy thrust into the spotlight last week, when leaders of Malaysia’s Roman Catholics, estimated at nearly 800,000, complained that authorities had refused to renew a publishing permit for articles written in Malay in their weekly.
The Internal Security Ministry attributed the ban to The Herald’s use of the word “Allah”, which is forbidden to be used by non-Muslims in Malaysia, according to Catholic church officials.
The move promoted the weekly and a Catholic church to lodge two lawsuits against the government, naming as defendant the internal security minister, a post held by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
“Allah” is the Arabic word for God and means the same in Malay, Malaysia’s national language.
Catholics argue that their use of “Allah” is not something new. They have invoked the word for generations in prayers and during Malay mass.
- Goodwill gesture
Catholic leaders welcomed the government’s move as a goodwill gesture.
“We thank the Government for this gesture of goodwill in renewing Heralds printing permit and restoring its right to publish in all languages without any conditions,” Lawrence said.
He said Catholic citizens are delighted that their complaint has been addressed.
National Evangelical Christian Fellowship secretary-general Wong Kim Kong also praised the government for its swift action to end the row.
Bernard Dompok, Minister in the Prime Ministers Department, said the permit is Abdullah’s Christmas present.
“I think the permit is good news and the government has given the Christian community a wonderful Christmas present,” Bernard said.
“The community will certainly be happy to know that the Government is looking into their welfare and that the Government is interested in all the races.”
Dubbed the “melting pot” of Asia for its potpourri of cultures, the Southeast Asian country has long been held up as a model of peaceful co-existence among its races and religions.
Muslim Malays form about 60 percent of Malaysia’s 26-million population, while Christians make up around 9.1 percent.
Buddhists constitute 19.2 percent, Hindu 6.3 while other traditional Chinese religions make up the rest of the population.