Malaysia: Catholic paper that used Allah can print

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Malaysia will lift a ban on the Malay edition of a Catholic newspaper if it agrees to stop using the word "Allah," an official said Thursday, but the editor of the paper rejected the precondition.

The Home Ministry ordered the Herald newspaper last week to stop printing its Malay edition for violating a 2007 ban on the use of the word "Allah," except to refer to the Muslim God. The newspaper had been using "Allah" as a translation for God, regardless of denomination, as is typical in Malay.

The dispute has become a touchstone for recent religious tensions in Malaysia, which is predominantly Muslim but prides itself on its ethnic harmony.

The government agreed Thursday to lift the ban. "If they stop printing the word 'Allah,' they can publish anytime," Che Din Yusoh, a senior official with the ministry's publications control unit, told The Associated Press.

But the editor of the Herald, the country's main Roman Catholic newspaper, said he will continue to use "Allah," raising the possibility of a fresh confrontation.

The Herald's English, Mandarin and Tamil editions _ read mostly by the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities _ were not affected by the ban. Malay is the language of the majority Malay Muslims as well as indigenous Christian tribes in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak.

The Herald has challenged the "Allah" ban in court, saying the translation has been used for centuries in Malay and that the Arabic word is a common reference to God that predates Islam. It says the ban is unconstitutional and threatens the religious freedom of minorities. The government, meanwhile, says the use of the word by non-Muslims could confuse Muslims.

The court has not yet issued a ruling.

Herald editor Rev. Lawrence Andrew told the AP that the government has no right to impose preconditions.

"They cannot do it because it is in the court. It is our right ... to use the word Allah," he said, adding that he hopes the government will not change its mind now that he has said he intends to flout the condition.

Andrew had said earlier Thursday that he would stop using the word "Allah" but changed his position after talking to his lawyer.

The Herald has long been at odds with the government, which has accused it of overstepping its boundaries by commenting on politics and other sensitive issues.