Corrected on 29 Jan 2009 at 11.40am
“The use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims may arouse sensitivity and create confusion amongst the Muslims in this country.”
FORMER Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Abdullah Md Zin, quoted on 4 Jan 2008. He was elaborating on a cabinet decision to hold as exclusive to Islam the use of the word “Allah”. The Catholic weekly Herald, which had just renewed its printing licence at the time, was therefore barred from using the word. However, there was no restriction on the use of the Malay language (source: Cabinet: “Allah” for Muslims only, theSun, 4 Jan 2008).
“Publication in the Malay language is not allowed until a court decision on the case of the use of the utterance ‘Allah’ is reached.”
This was one of three stipulations in a letter from the Home Ministry to the Herald on 30 Dec 2008, detailing a conditional printing licence. The other two are: “This publication is to be sold in churches only”, and “The front page of the magazine has to display ‘This title is for Christians only’.” The letter was signed by Quran Publication Control and Text Division principal chief secretary Abdul Razak Abdul Latiff, on behalf of the Home Ministry’s secretary general (source: Herald, 11 Jan 2009).
On 2 Jan, Rev Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, sent a letter to the Home Ministry appealing against the decision, and even threatened to take the government to court over the matter (source: Star, 2 Jan 2009).
The Herald‘s 11 Jan edition also quoted from a letter by Archbishop Murphy Pakiam, addressed to the Home Ministry, saying that their restriction was a “clear contravention of the spirit and intent of the National Language Act 1967”.
“The Home Ministry has never prohibited the use of Bahasa Malaysia in the Roman Catholic Church’s publication The Herald (sic).
“The ministry is only against the use of the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God. The correct and appropriate translation for God in Bahasa Malaysia or Melayu is ‘Tuhan’.”
The Home Ministry’s (corrected) Publications and Quranic Text Control Division secretary Che Din Yusoh released a statement on 9 Jan, responding to various quarters who had expressed regret at the ministry’s decision to stop the Herald from publishing in Malay (source: No ruling against use of BM in the Herald, Star, 10 Jan).
Interestingly, Clause 1 (a) Article 152 of the Federal Constitution provides that “no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using … any other language,” but makes no such protection of the Malay language.
“We have many organisations in this country, and we shouldn’t think that we only have the right, and others don’t.”
Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, chastising the Herald for its decision to continue using the word “Allah” in its publication without waiting for the courts to decide on the matter. He speculated that the weekly’s actions might cause “conflict, and anger Malaysian Muslims” (source: Herald cabar undang-undang, Utusan Malaysia, 22 Jan 2009).