KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 9 ― Popular Islamic scholar Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin has suggested that many states will be forced to create a “special” version of their anthems if they enforce an Islamic law barring non-Muslims from describing their god as “Allah” ― in the latest religious debate in mainly Muslim Malaysia.
The former Perlis mufti was weighing in on the latest religious storm sparked yesterday by the Selangor Sultan’s royal decree banning followers of faiths other than Islam from using the word “Allah” to describe their gods.
“Bnyk lagu negeri2 ada klimah Allah trmasuk S’ngor. Jk mrk haram sama sekali pnggil Tuhan ALLAH, mk versi khas dperlukn [Many state anthems have the word Allah, including Selangor. If they ban calling God ALLAH, they will therefore need a special version],” he posted on his Twitter account, @realDrMAZA, yesterday.
“It means a total ban is not possible. If it is only restricted to the Malay bibles, that is merely an administrative issue,” he told The Malaysian Insider when contacted.
Muslim-dominant Malaysia has 13 states and three federal territories. Over half the state anthems contain the word “Allah” in their lyrics.
The national anthem, “Negaraku”, does not carry the Arabic word “Allah” but uses the Malay word for god, “Tuhan”.
The Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) lecturer has drawn a large following over his vocal views on religion.
Last November, he was dragged into a controversy over Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar’s statements on Islam after several religious hawks suggested the PKR vice-president’s remarks at a public forum meant she supported Muslims renouncing Islam and turning “murtad” or apostate.
Mohd Asri had defended the opposition’s young rising star publicly, saying there was no compulsion in practising Islam.
Race and religion are inseparable issues in Malaysia, where the Malays — who make up 60 per cent of the 28 million population — are constitutionally defined to also be Muslims.
The country’s supreme law states that Islam is the religion of the federation but also provides for other religions to be practised freely.
Christian church leaders and an umbrella body representing Sikh temples nationwide have expressed concern over the effect of the Selangor Sultan’s royal decree banning followers of faiths other than Islam from using the word “Allah” to describe their gods.
The state Ruler had also instructed the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) and the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (JAIS) to take firm action against all groups, including non-Muslims, who continued to question the state fatwa and a 1988 state law restricting use of the Arabic word.
However, in December 2009, the High Court ruled that the word “Allah” was not restricted to Muslims and the Catholic Church had the right to published the word in the Malay section of its weekly newspaper, Herald.