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Agnes Monica is the Miley Cyrus of Southeast Asia. The Indonesian teen singer's face is ubiquitous. Her performances are packed out. But in Selangor, Malaysia, no one is allowed to play her song "Allah Peduli" ("God Cares"). Monica is a Christian, and Malaysian law bans non-Muslims from referring to God as Allah.

The ban on "God Cares" is one application of state laws widely opposed by the island nation's Christians and other non-Muslims. Few question whether Allah is the God of the Bible—to Malaysian Christians, Allah is simply the word for God.

The decades-old state laws have gained recent prominence through The Herald, the national Catholic newspaper. Beginning in 1998, Malaysia's Ministry of Home Affairs has sent letters to editor and priest Lawrence Andrew asking him to cease using Allah in the paper's Malay edition. In 2007, the government threatened to ban the newspaper. Thus began a long legal battle, with government representatives issuing conflicting orders and the paper suing to both publish in Malay and continue its use of the theonym.

The newspaper acquired a printing permit for 2009. But on May 28, the church lost its suit to legally use Allah. A high court hearing that began July 7 should resolve the newspaper's legal status.

Perhaps in anticipation of another unfavorable ruling, the Indonesian organization Yayasan Lentera Bangsa has published a new translation of the Bible in Indonesian. Allah does not appear in the Kitab Suci Indonesian Literal Translation (KS-ILT). Instead, the publishers transliterated Hebrew terms (such as Elohim) and substituted some less-common Indonesian names for God.

"Coincident with the forbidding of the use of Allah by non-Muslims in Malaysia, we think it is the time for us to release ...

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August 2009

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