Malaysia has banned an Ultraman comic book because it uses the word “Allah” to describe the Japanese action hero, during an ongoing row over use of the word by non-Muslims.
The Home Ministry, which is in charge of domestic security and censorship, says the Malay edition of Ultraman, The Ultra Power contains elements that can undermine public security and societal morals.
“Ultraman [King] is an idolised by many children,” and equating him with Allah will “confuse Muslim youth and damage their faith”, it said in a statement.
It warns such irresponsible use of the word Allah can provoke Muslims and threaten public safety.
It said on Friday that other Ultraman comic books were unaffected and that only this edition is banned.
The government says Allah, which is the Arabic word for God, is exclusive for Malay Muslims, who account for about 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 30 million people.
Ultraman is a fictional Japanese superhero who fights skyscraper-sized monsters, and first appeared on television in the 1960s.
The comic gained popularity worldwide, including in Malaysia, where versions dubbed in Malay were screened on TV and comic books translated into the national language.
The home ministry said other Ultraman comic books were unaffected and that only this edition is banned.
The decision has led to widespread ridicule among Malaysian Facebook and Twitter users - including from Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who asked “Apa salah Ultraman? (What wrong did Ultraman do?)”
The controversial line can be seen in an image available on social media that describes Ultraman: “He is considered, and respected, as Allah or the Elder to all Ultra heroes.”
The ban is enforced under the Printing Presses and Publications Act, a much-criticised law which gives authorities wide-ranging powers over printed material, which was also used to bar the Catholic Church from using “Allah” in its publications.
The home ministry in 2007 threatened to revoke the publishing permit of the Herald, the Catholic Church’s newspaper, for using the word in its Malay edition, leading to a seven-year legal battle that has raised religious tensions.
The church is currently seeking leave from the nation’s highest court to challenge a lower court’s ruling last October that sides with the government.
The tussle has led to a wider struggle over whether the word can be used by non-Muslims in their translated scripture or other practices of worship.