KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 – A whopping 83 per cent of Malay voters insist that only Muslims have the absolute right to call their god “Allah”, a poll released today showed.
Independent pollster Merdeka Center, which surveyed 1,021 voters in Peninsular Malaysia at the end of January, reported today that most of the Malay voters – which formed 59 per cent of the survey group – say only Muslims are entitled to use the Arabic word for god, contrary to a 2009 High Court judgment that ruled otherwise.
A significant 34 per cent of the Malay voters were also reported to back federal lawmaker Datuk Ibrahim Ali’s call last year, for Muslims to torch Malay-language copies of the Christian holy book that describes the Christian god as “Allah”.
The founder and president of Perkasa, a right-wing Malay group, had sparked a potential faith crisis in December in response to DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng who urged Putrajaya to lift a ban on Malay-language bibles in Sabah and Sarawak, where the “Allah” word had been in use for centuries.
The firestorm subsided somewhat after church leaders chose to turn a deaf ear to Ibrahim’s provocative remarks.
The “Allah” dispute first arose in the early 1980s when the home ministry, then under the Mahathir administration, first banned Malay-language bibles shipped in from Indonesia.
Muslim and religious leaders of other miniority faiths here have been at loggerheads over use of “Allah” following the 2009 landmark High Court judgment awarding the Catholic Church the right to publish the word in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its weekly newspaper, Herald, catering to its large Bumiputera Christian following in Sarawak and Sabah.
Muslims are Malaysia’s biggest religious group at 60 per cent, while the minority Christians, who form just under 10 per cent of the 28 million total population, have been at the forefront of issues confronting the non-Muslim community, which are provided for under the country’s Constitution.
A Sabah church group has also alleged that the religious freedom of Christian Bumiputeras was under attack, pointing out that most adherents of the faith in Malaysia came from east Malaysia and used the Malay language.
The Sikhs too have said their original holy texts, including the Sikh Holy Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, contain the word “Allah”.
A Buddhist group has urged the National Unity and Integration Department, which is under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department, to resolve the drawn-out dispute over the usage of “Allah”.
The Malaysian Islamic Development Department also upset church leaders with its Friday sermon in the past in which it warned Muslims nationwide of “enemies of Islam” that would try to confuse them into believing that all religions share the same god.
Retired Attorney-General Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman has urged the authorities to speed up action against Ibrahim over his Bible-burning threat, saying any further delay in acting against the veteran politician could be held against the establishment ahead of Election 2013.