“Allah” banned in Catholic newspaper

JANUARY 4, 2008
Posted January 18, 2008

The Herald
Catholic weekly newspaper The Herald was banned from referring to God by the name “Allah” in its Malay-language articles, according to international press reports. Abdullah Mohammed Zain, a minister in the prime minister’s department, reiterated late last year’s ban in a press conference on January 4, according to Malaysian newspaper The Star.   

The decision that all non-Islamic religions should refer only to God, or “Tuhan” in Malay, was originally made by the Malaysian Cabinet in meetings on October 18 and November 1 last year, The Star reported. The Herald began a court action at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on December 5to defend their use of the name Allah, The Star said.

The new announcement came after The Herald’s printing permit was renewed in an official letter dated December 28, according to The Star. The Reverend Lawrence Andrew, editor of the paper, publicly expressed relief at the revived official tolerance indicated by the apparently unconditional reissue of the permit in a statement on December 31, according to The Associated Press.

The paper’s publisher had earlier been told that the printing license, which was due to expire on December 31, could be withheld for noncompliance with the government order, The Star said. Confusion arose in the international press when a junior internal security minister, Mohamad Johari Baharum, repeated the threat that The Herald would be denied a permit to Agence France-Presse on December 30, the same day that the letter renewing the license was delivered to the paper.

Abdullah, a minister with authority over religious affairs, spoke to reporters on January 4 to clarify that Andrew’s optimism was premature, saying that the prohibition is still in place in spite of the approved license.

In response to the renewed ban, Andrew told Agence France-Presse that the first 2008 issue of The Herald still used the forbidden word and that the paper would continue with the court action in 2008.The newspaper, which also publishes articles in English, Chinese, and Tamil for a readership of around 12,000,asserts its right to continue referring to Allah, the traditional Malay word for the Christian deity, in articles and in quotations from the Malay translation of the Bible, which uses the name Allah throughout.

Ethnic Malay Muslims, who are politically dominant in the multiracial coalition government, fear that the use of the name in Christian literature might confuse Malaysian Muslims, who make up about 60 percent of the population. Malay-language bibles have been stamped with the clarification “Not for Muslims” by government order since 2005.