Govt says no to National Language for Malaysian Catholics

By Debra Chong

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1 — When the next issue of The Herald, a local Catholic newspaper comes out on Jan 11, it will be missing an entire section in the National Language.

Two days ago, the Home Ministry ordered it to close down its Bahasa Malaysia section, for fear that Malaysian Muslims would become confused over the newspaper’s use of the word “Allah” to mean God outside of Islam.

Rev Father Lawrence Andrew, its editor, is troubled. But he has no choice but to follow the order if he wants to continue publishing.

The ministry has made it clear that it will not hesitate to close down the newspaper if the new terms are not met.

It had renewed the newspaper’s yearly publishing permit only on Dec 31, the very day it expires.

The Herald is the only national newspaper carrying Catholic news to the religion’s 840,000 followers in Malaysia.

The weekly publishes in four languages: English, Chinese, Tamil and Bahasa Malaysia to cater to its multilingual, multicultural followers.

Many of them are bumiputera from Sabah and Sarawak, who communicate mainly in the National Language, Lawrence claimed.

But the Catholic Church will not be letting this issue slide, said Lawrence.

Its circulation had jumped an extra 1,000 readers from 13,000 in August last year.

“We cannot accept this. This is ridiculous,” said Lawrence.

He added: “The question is: who can tell you that you cannot use Bahasa Malaysia? It is the National Language.”

He told The Malaysian Insider today the federal government order is interfering with the Catholic Church’s right to practise its religion freely.

The Church is considering filing for another court order, on top of its judicial review, to stop the government’s restrictions.

The Church took the ministry to court last April challenging the government order that it cannot use the word “Allah” to mean God outside the religion of Islam.

The case is ongoing.

Lawrence asked for the government to let the court decide and “not jump the gun”.

“The only thing we are disputing is the word ‘Allah’,” he said.

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