Malaysia's Minority Religious Leaders Condemn 'Allah' Ban

March 9, 2009

Author: Michelle Green

Source: Ecumenical News International

Leaders of Malaysia's minority religious groups have criticised the country's government for restricting the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims in Bibles, a Catholic newspaper and other texts.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism said in a statement made available on 6 March that, "no religion can claim exclusive use of this term [Allah]".

"The government must therefore cease its periodic attempts to issue orders prohibiting its usage by religions other than Islam," said the umbrella group. "Historically the common use of the term predated the Holy Quran and Islam."

The statement followed a decision by the government to re-impose a ban on the Roman Catholic-run Herald newspaper against using the word "Allah" in its Malay-language edition. The government lifted the original ban in February on condition the newspaper was distributed only to Christians but then re-imposed it following criticism by some Islamist groups in the Muslim-majority southeast Asian nation.

Malaysian authorities have also confiscated Malay-language Bibles brought into the country by Christian groups because they use the word "Allah" to describe God. Malaysian Muslim leaders vehemently oppose the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims, with some saying they fear attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity or other religions.

Christian and other religious groups say the Arabic word has long-become part of the Malay language, and they have no other word for "God" in the native tongue. Christians use the word "Allah" in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, which is Malaysia's neighbour.

The Herald and the Evangelical Church of Borneo have petitioned the Indonesian courts to rule that the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims is legal. These petitions have yet to be heard.