Malaysia does an Allah Climb Down
|Our Correspondent||Dec 31, 2007|
In the face of widespread adverse public reaction, the
Malaysian government has backed away from canceling the publishing license of a
Roman Catholic newspaper for using the word “Allah” interchangeably for “God”
in the Malay language section of the paper.
“There are no conditions, there was no mention of the Allah
ban," the editor of The Herald, Lawrence Andrew, told The Associated
Press. After The Herald refused to drop
use of the word Allah, the government said the paper’s license would be
The internal security ministry, which issues the permits,
had given no reasons for the earlier ban but the unusual delay in getting the
permit renewed followed warnings over the Herald’s use of the word "Allah."
A December 24 Asia Sentinel story on the proposed ban drew
dozens of fevered comments on the site, split between Muslims and non-Muslims
on whether the word Allah was exclusive to Islam. It was the closest Asia
Sentinel has come to hosting a theological forum.
In the original story, Malaysia
Takes God’s Name in Vain, Malaysia’s
Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharum, was quoted as saying: “Only
Muslims can use ‘Allah’. It’s a Muslim word, you see. It’s from (the Arabic
language). We cannot let other religions use it because it will confuse people.
We cannot allow this use of ‘Allah’ in non-Muslim publications, nobody except
Muslims. The word ‘Allah’ is published by the Catholics. It’s not right.”
But in fact, in God and Allah mean the same in different
languages. Muslims, like Christians, do not worship a person called Allah. They
worship a single supreme being, which the Arabic language denotes as Allah. The
very word Allah derives from the singular nature of the monotheistic deity. In
the Arab world Allah has always been used by Christians (a significant
minority) and Jews (a smaller but important minority until the creation of Israel)
to denote the “one God” which the religions share.
The Herald had earlier filed a suit seeking to declare using
the word "Allah" a constitutional right regardless of religion.
Meanwhile, in a separate development, al-Jazeera has
reported that a church in Sabah is suing
Malaysian authorities for banning the import of Christian literature containing
the word "Allah.” Sabah Sidang
Church filed the case
earlier this month after six titles used for Sunday school classes were banned.
According to al-Jazeera, letters from the internal security
ministry said the books used words that were exclusive to Islam, including