A senior government official in Malaysia has ordered a Catholic newspaper to drop the use of the word “Allah” in its Malay language section if it wants its publishing permit renewed, the Associated Press reports.
The Herald, published by Malaysia’s Catholic Church, has translated the word God as “Allah.” Che Din Yusoff, a senior official at the Internal Security Ministry’s publications control unit, has said this usage is erroneous because “Allah” refers to the Muslim God.
"Christians cannot use the word Allah. It is only applicable to Muslims. Allah is only for the Muslim god. This is a design to confuse the Muslim people," Che Din told the Associated Press.
Che Din said that the newspaper should use the general term for God, the word “Tuhan.”
Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, explained the newspaper’s usage of the controversial word:
"We follow the Bible. The Malay-language Bible uses Allah for God and Tuhan for Lord. In our prayers and in church during Malay mass, we use the word Allah," Father Andrew said. "This is not something new. The word Allah has been used in Malaysia for a long time. There is no confusion," he continued.
Che Din said that since Christians don’t use the word “Allah” in English-language worship, they shouldn’t use it in the Malay language. In addition to “Allah,” Che Din said three other Malay words ought not be used by non-Muslims: "solat" for prayers, "kaabah" for the place of Muslim worship in Mecca and "baitula" the house of Allah.
Publishers in Malaysia are required to obtain annual permits from the government, a policy that has been criticized for infringing on the freedom of the press. Members of minority religions have also complained that they do not enjoy full freedom of religion, despite such guarantees in the nation’s constitution.
The Herald, a 13-year-old weekly, is in talks with the government to renew its permit, which expires December 31. Che Din said the publication’s permit would only be renewed if The Herald stops using the word “Allah” in its pages.
The Herald publishes reports in four languages: English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. It has a circulation of 12,000.
There are more than 800,000 Catholics in Malaysia, whose overall population is 27 million.