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Christian publications can use“Allah”

PETALING JAYA, 26 Feb 2009: The government has gazetted a ruling that prohibits Christian publications from using the word “Allah”, unless they carry the disclaimer “For Christianity” on their front covers.

While the ruling, published in the Government Gazette on 16 Feb, allows publications like the Catholic weekly Herald to continue using the word in its Bahasa Malaysia segment, it also raises other implications. Among them are how this would affect imported Christian publications which have the word “Allah”, and publications of other faiths — like Sikhism — which also use the word.

According to the Government Gazette, under the section Internal Security (Prohibition On Use of Specific Words on Document and Publication) Order 2009, the Home Ministry has ordered that “any document and publication relating to Christianity containing the words ‘Allah’, ‘Kaabah’, ‘Baitullah’, and ‘Solat’ are prohibited”.

This is unless the words “For Christianity” are printed on the front cover of the publication “in font type Arial of size 16 in bold”.

The order was signed by Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, who is empowered to make the ruling under Section 22 (1)(c) of the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA).

“It comes to us as a blessing in disguise,” Herald editor Fr Lawrence Andrew told The Nut Graph, in a telephone interview.

“It gives us the freedom to use the word ‘Allah’, provided that we print a warning on our front page — and we’ve done that in our 1st March issue,” said Andrew, who received a copy of the gazetted ruling.

Herald has been involved in a tussle with the Home Ministry, most recently since January 2009. Following the ministry’s ban on its use of the word “Allah”, the Catholic weekly has sought a court order to challenge the government’s decision. The High Court hearing of the judicial review is scheduled for tomorrow.

The word “Allah” has been used by Malaysian Christians and in Malay-language translations of the Bible since before independence, Andrew said. “Before the British, the church in the region had prayer books and doctrines in the Malay language,” he explained.

However, Andrew noted that the latest order was “first and foremost a prohibition”. He characterised the regulation as more akin to an exemption, rather than a lift of the ban on the use of the word “Allah”. “Exemptions can be withdrawn,” he said.

Andrew also said that this new regulation may have stifling effects on other Christian periodicals and reading material for Malay-speaking Christians.

“What about other publications? We are a universal church. Our reading material comes from all over the world,” he said.

He added that many Malay-language publications related to Christianity are imported from Indonesia, where no such prohibitions exist.

The newly gazetted order makes “the printing, publication, sale, issue, circulation and possession” of documents related to Christianity, using any of the four words and without a front-page warning, a breach of the law.

“On the one hand, it is good that the government appears to be recognising another religion’s right [to use the word ‘Allah’],” said Christian human rights lawyer Andrew Khoo.

However, Khoo noted some serious concerns with the new regulation. “This suddenly makes the possession of such documents and publications a breach of the order,” he said, adding that it made individuals possessing material not in compliance with the order henceforth liable for penalty under the ISA.

Khoo also pointed out that the Christian community had been specifically singled out in the new ruling.

“Does this mean there are different standards for different religions [other than Islam]?” Khoo asked, noting that Sikhism also uses the term “Allah” to refer to God.

“If the word ‘Allah’ has been banned for use by non-Muslims, what’s going to happen to the Sikhs and the practice of their religion?” Malaysian Gurdwara Council head Harcharan Singh was quoted as saying in a Malaysiakini report last year. Harcharan noted that the word “Allah” was used in Sikhism’s main holy scripture.

Khoo cautioned that such disparities may sow more discord and disunity, and work against the creation of a positive environment where individuals are able to exercise their right to profess, practice and propagate their religion.

This freedom is provided for under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.

He said it was questionable whether the new regulation was constitutional. “It should be challenged in court,” he said.

K Shanmuga, a lawyer involved in religious freedom cases, pointed out that the ISA’s constitutional mandate did not empower it to restrict religious faith.

“The ISA is provided for by Articles 149 and 150 of the Constitution. While these allow for a lot of restrictions, neither allows restrictions on religious freedom,” he said.

Shanmuga explained that it was up to individual states to decide to legislate restrictions on the propagation of other religions among Muslims. While 10 states have enacted such laws, Sabah, Sarawak, Penang and the Federal Territories have not.

Therefore, constraints on religious freedom are outside the jurisdiction of the Home Ministry.

“The Home Minister has no power to restrict Christians from propagating their faith,” Shanmuga said.

Syed Hamid issued the order under Section 22 (1)(c) of the ISA, which allows the minister to restrict publications “calculated or likely to lead to a breach of the peace, or to promote feelings of hostility between different races or classes”.

“I don’t know what the Home Minister has seen, but I can’t see myself how [such publications are] likely to cause such a breach of the peace,” Shanmuga said.

See also:
Herald to discuss new order with AG’s Chambers
Home minister rescinds new gazette on “Allah”

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4 Responses to “Christian publications can use“Allah””

  1. cruzeiro says:

    Very sad that you did not highlight the catch in the “exemption” which is an insult to any religion! Do they take us to be mutes?

    You can print, You can read, but for crying out loud -you cannot say it! What kind of a home ministry is this?

    Here it is from the Malaysian Insider – Fr Lawrence’s comment:

    “But he is wary of celebrating too soon, noting that the order does not allow Christians to use it orally, whether celebrating Mass or other forms of prayer and worship.”

  2. lucia says:

    Yeah agree with cruzeiro.

    A commenter at the Malaysian Insider said it well: “You can fart but you can’t smell.”

    Also, the worst part of it is that now the use of “Allah” comes under ISA!

  3. hairul says:

    The right or grammatically correct Arabic phrase is Allah al’ab = God the father. Although the use of Allah for Muslims is always to refer to Allah the one God, Christians do use the name Allah but refer to God the father.

    I hope I did not confuse myself.

  4. Apocryphalist says:

    I have expounded my take on the issue at, if you may recall. But Syed Hamid is not doing sufficiently. Instead of the words “For Christians Only” the following words should be written on each and every material wanting to use the name Allah:-

    “Be it known here that the Allah mentioned in this here Bible is the same Allah as the one found in the Quran, and not a different Allah. And because of this, it goes without saying that whatever that Allah says in the Quran is True, especially in regards to Christianity, Jesus Christ and Mary without any false interpretations. It also follows that the Quranic verses (5.116), (61.6), (4.157), (4.171-173), (19.88-19.93) are true without the slightest doubt.”

    O yes, can we know from Father Lawrence when he could start to instruct all Catholics in Malaysia to mention the word Allah whenever they pray in silence, in the solitary environs of their homes, in official wedding ceremonies, in hymns, carols, all communications with the Vatican and to each other? Of course better still, to have each and every copy of the Bible OUTSIDE Malaysia to be printed with the name Allah in it?

    And if we will petition to change the first item in Rukunegara from “Kepercayaan kepada Tuhan” to “Kepercayaan kepada Allah”? I am sure we can rely on the Christians of this country to support it, and THAT will make a total of more than 50% of the population agreeing to it.

    “But he is wary of celebrating too soon, noting that the order does not allow Christians to use it orally, whether celebrating Mass or other forms of prayer and worship.”

    I say Father Larry dear, just do it. Go ahead. Say your mass with that word in it. Forget about the government rulings. And before this brouhaha about the rulings, have you ever done that? And if you have (which I doubt very much), was it ever an instruction from the pope that you could do that? If it was, then to go – this one should be no problem at the very least.

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