Christians can use Allah in print, but they cannot say it

by Debra Chong

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 — The controversial ban on the word “Allah” to mean God for non-Muslims is still in place, said a Malaysian Catholic priest involved in a court dispute over its use.

The Associated Press had reported earlier today that the ban had been lifted with conditions.

“The ban has not been lifted,” Reverend Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of The Herald, a Catholic weekly newspaper, told The Malaysian Insider this afternoon.

He said he had recently received a letter from the Home Ministry reinforcing the rule forbidding the word “Allah” in a non-Muslim context.

He explained the ban made exceptions for Christians to use the word “Allah” only in print and under stringent conditions.

“The printing, publishing, sale, issue, circulation and possession of any document and publication relating to Christianity containing the words ‘Allah’, ‘Kaabah’, ‘Baitullah’ and ‘Solat’ are prohibited unless on the front cover of the document and publication are written with the words ‘FOR CHRISTIANITY’,” Fr Lawrence said, quoting from the letter dated Feb 16, 2009.

“The words ‘FOR CHRISTIANITY’ referred to in subparagraph (1) shall be written clearly in font type Arial of size 16 in bold,” he added.

The notification, which falls under the Internal Security Act, was gazetted on Feb 16 this year.

“We feel good we can use ‘Allah’ again,” Fr Lawrence said, adding that the March 1 issue of The Herald will bear the required warning on its front page.

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.

“If I had a Malay Bible, but if ‘FOR CHRISTIANITY’ were not printed on its front cover, ahhh, trouble,” the priest said.

Fr Lawrence noted that with the case still going on, the government’s latest move could be seen as acting in contempt of court.

Tomorrow, the High Court here will resume hearing the judicial review filed last year by the Catholic Church against the government over the “Allah” ban.

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