The Malaysian government has announced it will allow a Catholic newspaper’s Malay edition to be published, but will not allow the paper to use the word “Allah” as a translation of “God.”
For more than a year the Herald, the main Catholic weekly in Malaysia, has been in a legal dispute with the government over its use of the word "Allah" as a Malay translation for the word "God." The government claimed the usage would confuse Muslims, though the paper is read almost exclusively by Christians.
The newspaper insisted it has used the word "Allah" as it has been used for centuries in the Malay language, arguing the Arabic word’s use predates Islam.
Various news reports say the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, who is the publisher of the Herald, wrote a letter asking the Home Ministry to lift the ban.
Che Din Yusoh, a senior official with the ministry's publications control unit, explained the decision preserving the ban to the Associated Press.
"If they stop printing the word 'Allah,' they can publish anytime," Che Din said. "You can use another word. It's permissible for us.”
Islam is Malaysia’s official religion. The majority Malay ethnicity forms 60 percent of the country’s 27 million people and are all Muslim.
Malay is also spoken by many indigenous Christian tribes in the Sabah and Sarawak states, who read the Malay edition of the Herald.
The newspaper also publishes in English, Mandarin, and Tamil. It has challenged the ban on the word “Allah” in court, claiming that the ban is unconstitutional and threatens religious minorities’ religious freedom.
However, Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, told the AP that the newspaper is willing to stop using the word to avoid further confrontation.
"We welcome this new view ... giving us back the right to use our national language," he said.