RELIGION: Malaysian Sultan tells Sikhs, Christians they cannot call their God ‘Allah’
Published: January 9, 2013
Sultan of Selangor State in Malaysia
A Malaysian Sultan from the State of Selangor has decreed that non-Muslims will be banned from using the word ‘Allah’ to denote their God.
But an umbrella body representing Malaysia’s Protestant churches said Christians nationwide have been calling their god “Allah” in their worship for centuries and will continue exercising their constitutional right to do so, notwithstanding the decree barring the term from them, reported Malaysianinsider.com.
Similarly, the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council (MGC) said 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. Gurdwaras are places of worship for Sikhs. Some of the Sikh scriptures also use “Allah.”
In recent years, the Christian, Sikh and Muslim religious communities in Malaysian 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.
The Arabic word, which predates Islam, is routinely used by Christians and Sikhs in other Muslim countries.
The longstanding controversy in the multi-ethnic Southeast Asian country that is dominated by Muslim leaders was reignited after Prime Minister Najib Razak said recently that the government was planning to appeal the 2009 High Court ruling.
That Malaysian court ruling in December 2009 said 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.
The Muslim-dominated Malaysian government argues “Allah” is exclusive to Islam and forbids non-Muslims from using it.
But this week Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin 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.
Church leaders, who were meeting in the northern city of Ipoh, responded 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 clergymen’s statement comes on the heels of a similar statement issued by the umbrella body for all Sikh temples in the country.
“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.
Despite the Selangor Sultan’s latest decree banning non-Muslims in the state from using the word “Allah,” Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition, which is the Selangor state government, insisted that Islam does not prohibit others from using the word.
About 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 30 million people are Malay Muslims. Additionally, about 25 per cent are ethnic Chinese (mostly Buddhists), 10 per cent ethnic Indians (mostly Hindus) and nine per cent of the population is Christian. Sikhs are also considered ethnic Indians in Malaysia and number about 130,000.