A Malay-language Bible that does not use the word “Allah” has caused controversy among Malaysian Catholics, as the church here fights a court case to guarantee its right to use the word.
The Catholic Herald newspaper, in its Sunday edition, criticised the release this week at an international bookfair of the new Bible, which uses the Hebrew word “Elohim” instead of “Allah” for God.
“The Catholic bible that the church uses has the word ‘Allah´ for God whereas in comparison, this one does not,” the paper’s editor Father Lawrence Andrew said.
“The new Malay bible weakens the argument for using the word Allah because some groups are trying to substitute God with a foreign name, whereas Allah is the Malay word for God and has been the accepted translation for centuries,” he said.
“The publishers have copied substantially from the Indonesian bible which was approved by the Indonesian Bible Society and the Catholic Church but this new version has not been approved by the society or the church in Indonesia or here.”
The publishers of the bible could not be reached for comment.
The Catholic Church has taken legal action against the government after it was ordered not to use the disputed word under threat of having its paper’s publishing permit revoked.
Malaysian authorities argue the word should be used only by Muslims, who form the bulk of the country’s multicultural population.
Andrew said Malaysian Christians have been using the word “Allah” for centuries in translations of the Bible, and in popular prayers. The opposition has also called for the ban to be revoked.
“The term ‘Allah´ has been used in Indonesia and the Middle East by Christians without prosecution or controversy, despite both being overwhelmingly Muslim-majority regions,” opposition lawmaker Tony Pua said.
“It has been proven beyond doubt that it is not a term specifically monopolised only by Muslims,” he said in a statement Saturday.
A court is expected to decide on May 28 whether the Church has the right to use the word.
Around 60 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people are Muslim Malays. The rest includes indigenous tribes, as well as ethnic Chinese and Indians, variously practising Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, among others.