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Malaysian Christian leaders protest against ban on use of ‘Allah’


Malaysian Christians have protested against a government ban on the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims in the Islamic Southeast Asian nation.

In a statement issued to the media on 7 January, the Christian Federation of Malaysia expressed "deep disappointment and regret" at the announcement in the first week of January by the minister n charge of Islamic affairs, Abdullah Zin, that only Muslims were allowed to use the word "Allah". Zin said the word "Allah" referred only to the Muslim God and that non-Muslims were banned from using the expression.

Zin’s comments followed a long-running government campaign against a Roman Catholic newspaper because its Malaysian-language section referred to "Allah" as a synonym for God.

The latest ban has fuelled concern among Malaysia’s non-Muslim population that the government was bolstering the status of Islam at their expense.

"The word ‘Allah’ is a pre-Islamic word used by Arab Christians before Islam came into being," said Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing, head of the Malaysian Christian Federation, who is a Jesuit cleric, in a statement.

"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," the bishop said, adding that the ban violated the right to freedom of religion enshrined in the country’s constitution.

About 60 percent of Malaysia’s 25 million people are Muslims. Christians and Buddhists, who are mostly from the country’s minority Chinese community, make up about 28 percent of the population and Hindus of Indian origin make up about 10 percent.

Non-Muslims have long complained about local government demolition of their places of worship as well as failure to recognise conversions of Muslims to other religions. In some cases, converts have been forced to re-embrace Islam and in other cases deceased converts have been buried as Muslims even if they had been practising Christians, Buddhists or Hindus at the time of their death.

"We have used the word ‘Allah’ and we will continue to use it because it is our religious right," said the Rev. Hermen Shastri, executive secretary of the Christian Federation of Malaysia.

Ecumenical News International