Saturday, December 29, 2007

Catholic weekly denounces government for banning Christians from using the world “Allah”

The Catholic weekly, the “Herald”, has denounced the Kuala Lumpur government because for some weeks now it has banned the use of the word “Allah” in its publications.

According to the government the word can only be used by Muslims. But “for security Seasons”, the Herald must cancel the word “Allah” or risk closure.

The government ordinance has led to police requisitioning many imported Christian books.

In a declaration published in yesterdays edition, Herald editor, Jesuit father Lawrence Andrew, explains that he received the directive from the Ministry for Security prohibiting the use of the word “Allah” in the paper. If they do not comply, the government is threatening to suspend or indeed revoke its permission to print.

The Ministry for Security has absolute power over the media and the Heralds publishing permit expires on December 31 and has not yet been renewed. In order to avoid the closure of the only Catholic newspaper in the country Fr. Andrew has been forced to accept the imposition, but has denounce the government for depriving him of a right. “We all have the right to use the word ‘Allah”, he affirms in his declaration.

According to scholars and academics, “Allah” has been used for centuries by Arab Christians across the Middle East and that Islam began using this word having received it from Christians. Since the early 19th century this word has also been used by Christians in Malaysia.

But according to Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Johari Baharum, the word “Allah” can only be used in the context of Islam, to avoid confusion. In an interview with Malaysiakini (21 December 2007) he stated: “Only Muslims can use ‘Allah’. It’s a Muslim word, you see. It’s from the Arabic language. The word ‘Allah’ is published by the Catholics. It’s not right”.

Herald has a circulation of 12,000 and a readership of 50,000. Other than the English segment, it also has sections in Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil to cater to the multi-racial and multi-lingual make-up of the more than 850,000 Malaysian Catholics. In a Dec 10 letter, Herald was also informed by the ministry to stop its Bahasa Malaysia segment but no reason was given for the directive.

However, Fr. Andrew said, the suit was not related to the directive, forbidding the use of the word ‘Allah’.

But many observers note that the government – perhaps under pressure from fundamentalist groups – has also banned the importation of other Malay publications which may contain the word “Allah”.

The Evangelical Church of Borneo (Sidang Injil Borneo), for example, received a Ministry for Security injunction on importing Christian books which contain the word “Allah”.

According to the faithful of this Church, this denies one of their constitutional rights and they have appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Court was set to open hearings on the case, but has put the session off until January 16th next.

The Evangelical Church of Borneo affirms that the Malaysian Constitution guarantees full religious freedom to all confessions.

An ordinance published by the Ministry for Internal Security in 1986, forbids the use of the word “Allah” for non Muslims – never really put into effect – they judge as “unconstitutional”.
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