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Christians banned from saying 'Allah'

Malaysian women in Islamic dress (photo: International Christian Network)

A Malaysian newspaper is reporting that Christians in that Muslim nation are being banned from using the word “Allah.”

“We cannot let other religions use it because it will confuse people,” Malaysia’s Deputy Internal Security Minister, Johari Baharum, told the DNAIndia publication.

He said “only Muslims can use the word ‘Allah.'”

The issue erupted when a Catholic publication used the now-banned-for-Christians word.

Herald, the Catholic Church’s weekly newsletter, used the word and was warned it is at risk now of losing its publication permit.

The report said the move would shut down the 13-year-old publication, which is available in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil, and has a circulation of about 12,000, because without a renewed permit it cannot operate.

The present permit expires Dec. 31, officials reported.

It is not right, Baharum said, for such a publication to use the protected word. “We cannot allow this … in non-Muslim publications,” he said.

An estimated 10 percent of Malaysia’s estimated population of 26 million is Christian, and a part of that segment is Catholic. Lawrence Andrew is editor of the Herald, and said “Allah” was not used to offend or confuse anyone.

He said the Malay-language Bible uses the word “Allah” for God, and uses “Tuham” for Lord.”

It is not the first problem Christians have had in Malaysia, even though the nation’s constitution calls for religious freedom.

The Wall Street Journal has summarized the plight of a Malaysian woman who converted to Christianity, but lost a court case seeking to have “Islam” removed as her religion on her identity card.

“While Muslim-majority Malaysia is considered a largely moderate, modern society, renouncing one’s Muslim faith still is considered both sinful and illegal by Islamic authorities – who have gained increasing sway of late. Ms. [Lina] Joy’s apostasy case … has inflamed public debate, divided the legal community … and threatens to set off political tremors in this Southeast Asian nation.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said the government’s refusal to allow the woman to choose her religion violates customary international law protecting freedom of conscience as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It also violates the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which Malaysia is legally bound, the Becket Fund said.

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