Malaysia

Despite royal decree, Protestant churches say will keep using ‘Allah’

By Debra Chong
Assistant News Editor

January 09, 2013

The CCM said Christians have used the term “Allah” for “centuries”. — File picThe CCM said Christians have used the term “Allah” for “centuries”. — File picKUALA LUMPUR, Jan 9 ― An umbrella body representing Malaysia’s Protestant churches said today Christians nationwide have been calling their god “Allah” in their worship for centuries and will continue exercising their constitutional right to do so, notwithstanding a Selangor state decree barring the term from them.

The heads of churches of the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) said it had noted the current discourse over the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.

The church leaders who are meeting in Ipoh, reiterated that they have been using “Allah” in Malay-language bibles “for centuries” and that many indigenous communities here have incorporated the word that was of Arabic origin as part of their everyday language.

“That being the case, we shall continue this practice ― a right guaranteed to us in our Federal Constitution (Article 11) ― and call on all parties to respect this fundamental right,” they said in a statement to The Malaysian Insider.

The CCM clergymen’s statement comes on the heels of a similar statement issued yesterday by the umbrella body for all Sikh temples in the country.

The Malaysian Gurdwaras Council (MGC) added that any move to stop non-Muslims from using the word “Allah” in a religious text would be a restriction on Sikhs from practising their religion.

“The Malaysian Gurdwaras Council (MGC) is saddened to note that a decree has been issued by His Highness the Sultan of Selangor that non-Muslims in the state are banned from using the word Allah as it is a holy word exclusive to Muslims.

“The MGC is further dismayed that no exceptions have been made in the decree,” MGC president Jagir Singh said in a statement.

Sultan Sharafuddin has called for an emergency meeting with state Islamic religious officials to bar non-Muslims from using the Arabic word for god, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) said yesterday.

The statement from the state’s highest Islamic authority came despite a High Court ruling in December 2009 that the word “Allah” was not restricted to Muslims and the Catholic Church had the right to publish the word in the Malay section of its weekly newspaper, Herald.

Despite the Selangor Sultan’s latest decree banning non-Muslims in the state from using the word “Allah”, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) confirmed today its stand on the controversy, insisting that Islam does not prohibit others from using the word.

PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang told a joint press conference with PR leaders in Petaling Jaya yesterday that Christians and other non-Muslim communities should not abuse the word to spread confusion among Muslims but this did not mean they were not allowed to use the word.

“Islam does not stop those of other faiths from using kalimah ‘Allah’ in their practice, although [in the usage of the word by non-Muslims] it does not refer to the original meaning of the word as according to the al-Quran,” he said.

The “Allah” storm was reignited recently when Lim Guan Eng, the opposition DAP’s secretary-general, raised the controversial issue in his Christmas message urging the federal government to lift its ban on the word published in the Malay bibles shipped in to Sabah and Sarawak, who form the bulk of Malaysia’s 9.2 per cent Christian population.

In recent years, the Christian and Muslim religious communities have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the word “Allah”, with the latter group arguing that its use should be exclusive to them on the grounds that Islam is monotheistic and the word “Allah” denotes the Muslim god.

Shipments of the Alkitab, the Malay-language Bible catering to the Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Bumiputera Christians, were blocked or confiscated at ports, before the government finally bowed to pressure and released them in 2011.

The Sikhs, however, were not barred from using “Allah” in their worship until the Selangor Sultan’s latest decree.