Malaysia opposition politician says non-Muslims can use ‘Allah’

KUALA LUMPUR – The question of whether non-Muslims can use the word "Allah" to refer to God will now be settled in the Malaysian courts. The controversy first arose in 2007 when the Malaysian government banned the Herald, a Catholic newspaper in Malaysia, from translating God as "Allah".

The Herald challenged the "Allah" ban in court, saying the translation has been used for centuries in Malay and that the Arabic word is a common reference to God that predates Islam. It says the ban is unconstitutional and threatens the religious freedom of minorities. The government says the use of the word by non-Muslims could confuse Muslims.

The court has not yet issued a ruling.

In mid-February 2009, the government issued an order allowing Christian publications to use "Allah" provided they print a statutory warning that it is for non-Muslims. But last week the government rescinded the order, saying it was a "mistake".

For many Christians, the ban symbolises their eroding religious freedom under the Muslim-Malay dominated government, while for many Muslims, a lifting of the ban would be seen as a blow to Malay/Muslim supremacy in the country.The media reported that the government had succumbed to pressure from Muslim scholars and groups that are more hard-line than the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party headed by Nik Aziz.

Nik Aziz says non-Muslims should be allowed to use the word "Allah" to refer to God, questioning the government ban that has been criticised by Christians as a blow to freedom of religion, AP reported. He said that a verse in the Quran in which non-Muslims of Mecca call their God "Allah" supported his point.

Nik Aziz’s comments, made on Sunday Mar 1, were reported by the national news agency Bernama and the New Straits Times newspaper.

Nik Aziz’s views are an unexpected boost for Malaysia’s Christian minority, AP said. But Nik Aziz said he is only giving his opinion as a Muslim scholar, and will let the government decide whether to ban the word.

"I will not interfere in this," he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times daily.

The government is unlikely to heed Nik Aziz’s opinion because he is an arch political rival of the ruling coalition, AP reported. Also, it is not clear how much influence he has among Muslims outside the four states where his party has done well in recent elections.

Meanwhile, Father Lawrence Andrew and the Herald will continue to fight for their constitutional rights, and that of other non-Muslim minorities, through the courts.
AP, News Agencies


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