The Malaysian government has allowed Christian publications to use the word “Allah” to refer to God as long as they specify the material is not for the majority Muslims, a church official said Thursday.
The Feb 16 order issued by Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar is an apparent softening of its stand by the government, which had earlier banned the use of the word in all Christian texts.
The government argued that Allah is an Islamic word and its use by others might confuse Muslims, who might think Allah refers to their God.
The Herald, the Roman Catholic Church’s main newspaper in Malaysia, has already started printing “For Christianity” on its cover, said its editor Rev. Lawrence Andrew.
The Herald publishes weekly in English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay with an estimated readership of 50,000.
The ban on “Allah” concerns mainly the Malay edition, which is read mostly by indigenous Christian tribes in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak. The other three editions usually do not use “Allah.”
Andrew said although the order “makes things easier” for the Herald, the paper will not drop its legal challenge against the ban. A court is due to hear arguments in the case on Friday.
The Herald is arguing that the Arabic word is a common reference for God that predates Islam and has been used for centuries as a translation in Malay.
Andrew said the new order is still a violation of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution because Christians will not be able to use any literature that does not carry the statutory warning on the cover, including a lot of imported material.
He said most Malay-language Bibles in Malaysia are imported from Indonesia, where the language is more widely spoken.
“If this (order) is enforced, it will be difficult to possess materials … from Indonesia, and thus practicing our religion will not be easy. This goes against … the Constitution,” he told The Associated Press.
Andrew said the order also prohibits the use of three other Arabic words “solat,” or prayer, “Kaaba,” a holy site in Saudi Arabia, and “baitullah,” or house of God without the statutory warning.
Ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comments.
Home Minister Syed Hamid’s aide said he would only be available for comment Monday.