# Fri: Backtracks on decision to raise highway tolls
# Sat: Reverses move to let church papers use word 'Allah'
By Carolyn Hong
KUALA LUMPUR: - A day after the Malaysian government backtracked on the unpopular toll hike increase, it made another U-turn. It reversed a decision to allow church publications to use the word 'Allah'.
Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar attributed the original decision to lift the ban, contained in a government gazette dated Feb 16, to a 'mistake'.
'The government's stand on the ban has not changed,' he said last Saturday, but did not explain how the mistake was made. The government had earlier issued a gazette permitting Christian publications to use the word 'Allah' provided that the words 'For Christians' were printed clearly on the cover.
This came after months of wrangling between the church and government over this sensitive issue. There is strong Muslim sentiment against the use of the word 'Allah' to refer to the god of other faiths.
The gazette would be revoked, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid said. He was quoted in Mingguan Malaysian as saying that it was not his decision.
This is the second U-turn in as many days. Last Friday, the government backtracked on an unpopular toll hike after facing criticism among its own ranks, and even from Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.
The flip-flopping is clearly due to the political pressure that the government is facing as it faces up to an endless string of by-elections as well as party polls in Umno, the dominant component of the ruling Barisan Nasional.
Three by-elections loom: The two in Perak and Kedah have been fixed for April 7, while a third in Sarawak has yet to be fixed.
Umno party polls will take place at the end of this month.
The government is clearly mindful that it can ill-afford unpopular toll hikes that would become election fodder for the opposition.
The timing of the toll hike was particularly unfortunate as it came just as the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) was pushing the government to take over the management of the North-South Expressway, the main highway running along the length of Malaysia's west coast.
The DAP had highlighted the one-sided toll concession agreements that benefited the private companies at the expense of motorists, and pointed out provisions which allow the government to take over the highways.
The government hurriedly rescinded the toll hike, and a day later, it had to do the same with the gazette on the use of 'Allah'.
The gazette had not gone down well with several influential Muslim groups and leaders.
Malaysian Islamic Dakwah Foundation chairman Mohd Nakhaie Ahmad said the move could anger Muslims not only in the country but also throughout the world.
Perak Mufti Harussani Zakaria said it would not differentiate the god of different faiths.
The Syariah Lawyers Association and Penang Islamic Council also objected to it.
'This is dangerous and can bring confusion among the Muslims,' Penang Islamic Council chief Shabudin Yahaya was quoted as saying by the Utusan Malaysia.
The government backtracked immediately on this sensitive issue that could also hurt it in the by-elections, as well as the Umno polls.
But at least one respected Muslim leader, Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, who is also spiritual head of the opposition Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), said that non-Muslims should be allowed to use the word 'Allah'.
However, he said it was up to the federal government to decide whether to allow its use by non-Muslims.
The Herald, the Roman Catholic Church's main newspaper in the country, had filed a legal suit to challenge the ban on the use of the word 'Allah' by non-Muslims.
It has argued that the Arabic word is a common reference for God that predates Islam and has been used for centuries in the translation to Malay.
The Herald editor, Father Lawrence Andrew, yesterday was quoted by the French news agency, AFP, as saying that the publication would continue with the court case.
[Flip flop. The weakened BN flip flops because any further loss of support would cause them even more seats. So they bend to public opinion without the political capital to bite the bullet. And it is an insult to say that Muslims will be confused. Are they so easily confused? Then again, with teapot/kettle cults one wonders if there is truth in that.]