Monday, March 2, 2009 5:31 AM
Malaysia to restore 'Allah' ban for Christians
Eileen Ng , The Associated Press , Kuala Lumpur | Sun, 03/01/2009 9:49 AM
The Malaysian government will issue a new decree restoring a ban on Christian
publications using the word "Allah" to refer to God, officials said Sunday.
Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar said a Feb. 16 decree that let Christian
publications use the word, as long as they specified the material was not for
Muslims, was a mistake, the national Bernama news agency reported.
The about-turn came after Islamic groups slammed the government and warned that
even conditional use of the word by Christians would anger Muslims in the
largely Muslim-populated country.
A senior ministry official confirmed Syed Hamid's comments, saying
"interpretation mistakes" in the Feb. 1 decree had led to the confusion.
" 'Allah' cannot be used for other religions except Islam because it might
confuse Muslims. This is the ministry's stand and it hasn't changed," the
official told the Associated Press, but declined to be named citing protocol.
The dispute has become symbolic of inceasing religious tensions in Malaysia,
where 60 percent of its 27 million people are Muslim Malays. A third of the
population is ethnic Chinese and Indian, many of whom are Christian.
Malaysia's minorities have often complained their constitutional right to
practice their religions freely has come under threat from the government,
which is dominated by Malay Muslims. They cite destruction of Hindu temples and
conversion disputes as examples. The government has denied any discrimination.
The Herald, the Roman Catholic newspaper in the country, had filed a legal suit
to challenge the government's ban of the word.
The Herald said in its brief the Arabic word is a common term for God which
predates Islam. The word carried over directly into Malay, and for centuries it
has been the common term for God in that language.
Representatives from The Herald could not be reached for comment Sunday.