Malaysia does an Allah Climb Down

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

revoked.

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

Injil Borneo

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

"Allah."