Malaysian authorities are to allow a Catholic paper to continue to print, after earlier threatening to revoke its license in a row over the word "Allah," a church leader said yesterday.
Augustine Julian, secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, said a new license had been granted to the weekly, which would continue to use the term.
"The letter to allow the Herald to be printed was hand-delivered by internal security officials Sunday," he said.
"They have allowed us to publish the weekly as usual. All four sections -- in English, Malay, Tamil and Chinese -- will be published. I suppose if they give us the printing permit we can continue to use the word `Allah,'" he said.
Julian said no reasons were given for the extension but suggested the government would not want to alienate Malaysia's two million Christians ahead of general elections.
The Herald, a tabloid-sized newspaper, is circulated among the country's 850,000 Catholics with articles written in English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay.
A junior minister had earlier warned its printing permit, due to expire today, would not be renewed if it continued using the Malay word for "Allah," which the government says can only be used by Muslims.
Mohamad Johari Baharum, junior minister in the internal security ministry, said that the Herald would receive a new permit only if it stopped using words that are used in Islam.
"If they want the printing permit to be renewed, they have to comply with the requirements of the ministry. This is to prevent uneasiness among the majority Muslim Malaysians," he said.
"They have to drop the use of the words `Allah' [God], `Baitullah' [House of God], `Solat' [prayer] and `Kaabah' [The Sacred House] in the Malay language section of the newspaper," Mohamad Johari said.
Mohamad Johari said the government decision was final as it was a "sensitive matter" and was aimed to avoid confusion.
Malaysian commentators have sounded alarm over the growing "Islamisation" of the country and the increasing polarization of the three main ethnic communities, which mix much less than in the past.
Christians say they have long used the word "Allah" without problems, although the internal security minister had warned them since the late 1980s not to use the four terms.
Religion and language are sensitive issues in multiracial Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.
The publisher of the Herald and a church group in Sabah state on Borneo island filed a legal suit against the government for banning them from using the word "Allah."
Bernard Dompok, minister in the prime minister's department, said that he had spoken to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi over the problems faced by Catholics.
"Only in Malaysia, the Muslims claim exclusive rights to the word `Allah'. I am confident the Herald's permit will be renewed and it will be allowed to publish in all the four languages," he said.
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