by Szeleng Chan
CT, 14 Jan 2008

Malaysian Christians have expressed deep disappointment after the Malaysian Government appeared to backtrack on an earlier decision to allow non-Muslims to use the word “Allah”.

The dispute over the use of “Allah” started when the Malaysian Government threatened to revoke a local Catholic tabloid’s permit to publish. In response, The Herald weekly newspaper of the Catholic Church in Malaysia filed a lawsuit last month against the government, claiming that the ban was unconstitutional and violates freedom of religion.

Not long after The Herald filed its suit, the government back-tracked, however, stating in a fax to The Herald’s editor that the newspaper would receive its 2008 permit with no conditions attached.

The government’s position appeared to change again, however, when the de-facto minister for Islamic affairs, Abdullah Zin, told reporters that the Cabinet had agreed that the term should only be used by Muslims.

Zin said the Cabinet was of the view that “Allah” refers to the Muslim God and can only be used by Muslims, who comprise about 60 per cent of Malaysia’s population.

Earlier this month, Zin had explained that the use of the word “Allah” by other religions “may arouse sensitivity and create confusion among Muslims”.

In a statement to the media, Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing, the head of the Malaysian Christian Federation, reiterated the fact that the term ”Allah” was used by Arab Christians before the founding of Islam. He said that the ban was contravening the right to freedom of religion as outlined in the constitution.

“The word ‘Allah’ is a pre-Islamic word used by Arab Christians before Islam came into being,” Bishop Ing stated.

“We maintain and we have always told the government that we have the right to use the word ‘Allah’ whether in our Bahasa Malaysia publications or otherwise.”

See also my previous entry:
Malaysian row over word for ‘God’ (28 Dec 07)