Monday, December 24, 2007

PM, state your stand on Herald's 'Allah'

PM, state your stand on Herald's 'Allah'
Dec 24, 07 12:32pm

There is growing clamour for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to quickly douse the controversy over the use of ‘Allah’ by a Catholic weekly in its Bahasa Malaysia section as Christians prepare to celebrate Christmas tomorrow.

The Herald, a weekly bulletin of the Catholic Church has been warned it could lose its publication permit, which will effectively shut down the weekly, for using the word ‘Allah’ in referring to ‘God’ in its Bahasa Malaysia section.

The powerful Internal Security Ministry - in which Abdullah is the minister in charge - has also allegedly told the publisher to remove the entire Bahasa Malaysia section or the permit will not be renewed when it expires next week.

The Herald, which is published in four languages - English, Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil - has a circulation of 12,000.

Social movement Aliran said it was flabbergasted that “the usage of a single, widely used term to refer to the Almighty could be used to deny a basic right – the freedom to publish”.

“The term ‘Allah’ has been used for centuries without any problem or confusion. It has been the common term used by Muslims and Christians alike in the Arab world to refer to God.”

Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharum has earlier explained that the new condition imposed on Catholic bulletin was to prevent confusion.

“Only Muslims can use ‘Allah’,” he told Malaysiakini.

"We cannot allow this use of ‘Allah’ in non-Muslim publications - nobody except Muslims. The word ‘Allah’ is published by the Catholics. It’s not right.”

However, Aliran said that Johari’s “sudden claim to exclusivity” for the usage of the word “does not make sense”.

“Our own Bahasa Malaysia is littered with numerous words absorbed from many foreign languages. We have even stopped using existing words in preference to newly coined terms to reflect modernity and the scientific world. If foreign countries were to claim exclusivity for all these terms, what would become of Bahasa Malaysia?

“Aliran also understands that the line, ‘Ya Allah Yang Maha Kuasa...’ forms part of the Pahang state anthem. Does that mean that non-Muslims should not sing the Pahang state anthem?”

A retrogressive step

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang urged Abdullah to overrule Johari and rescind his ministry’s order to Herald to discontinue its Bahasa Malaysia section “so that Christmas Day this year will not be celebrated under a cloud of burgeoning religious intolerance.”

“As the word ‘Allah’ has been used to refer to God among Christians for generations in many countries and is never meant to offend or confuse the Muslims, Abdullah should intervene to rescind such retrogressive measure by the Internal Security Ministry,” said Lim.

He said that the ministry's decision to abolish the Herald's Bahasa Malaysia section shows that the government itself does not give pride of place to the national language.

The use of ‘Allah’ outside of Islam has stirred controversy in Malaysia previously. Four years ago, the Bible in the Iban language was banned because it translated the word ‘God’ as Allah Taala, which resembles Islam’s name for God.

The ban was, however, lifted after protests from the Christian community.

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