God in 1Malaysia
When the decision by Malaysian High Court Justice Lau Bee Lan giving the Catholic Herald newspaper the right to use the word Allah to represent God in its Malay-language edition has been met with jubilation among the country's 850,000-odd Catholics and outrage on the part of Muslims. As many as 10,000 protesters had signed onto a Facebook group page objecting to the Dec. 31 judgment.
Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak today called on Muslims to be calm and not "heat up" the issue of the High Court decision to allow a Catholic weekly to use the word "Allah" in its publication.
Najib said the government was quite aware that the issue was sensitive as well as touching on the feelings of Muslims in the country and as such the government would deal with the matter with urgency.
"The government is very much aware and concerned of various reactions that it has received after the recent High Court decision.
"The issue is very sensitive and touches on the feelings of Muslims, we need to be calm now and let the matter be resolved through the courts," he told reporters.
"I do not encourage (Muslims to demonstrate and the like), (but) I know the feelings among the Muslims, they feel discontented.
"I just hope that given the sensitive matter, we let the government handle the issue through appeal (in court)... and I don't want to heat up the matter, the government knows the feelings of the Muslims, let us find the best solution," he said
Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the use of the word 'Allah' may be used by other religions for their own agenda and confuse the Muslim.
"The issue should not be turned into polemic because Malaysia is a country that comprise a multi-racial population with freedom of religion.
"We must avoid any sensitivity raised through a platform of law," he told reporters.
He added that Muslims in the country observe a very high respect for other religions and do not want others to interfere in matters pertaining to Islam.
Zahid said National Fatwa Council had clearly stated that 'Allah' was exclusively for Islam because 'Tuhan' (God) was a general reference.
"All this while there has been no known writing in other religions that use the word 'Allah'. Why is it that only now 'Herald-The Catholic Weekly' are so interested in using the word 'Allah'.
"Even in the Federal Constitution it is stated that Islam is the official religion but other religions can be observed but cannot preach their religion to those who are Muslims," he said.
A flock of United Malay National Organization politicians have got into the act as well, including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamd and his son Mukhriz as well as former Selangor Chief Minister Mohamad Khir Toyo and others. Moderates including Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim are being called traitors to Islam for agreeing withg the decision, which is all but certain to be appealed to a higher court by the government as soon as possible and, if past practice is any gauge, a stay of execution will probably be granted.
The current case began in January of 2008 when the Malaysian cabinet reinstituted the cancellation of the Roman Catholic newspaper's publishing license for using the word "Allah" interchangeably with "God" in its Malay language section. The Herald, which prints in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil and Chinese, was first notified that it would no longer be allowed to use the word "Allah" on October 18 and November 1, 2007. But after informing the publication of the decision, a representative from the Internal Security Ministry later delivered a letter with the permit to print without restrictions, the publication's editor, Father Lawrence Andrew, told the media at the time.
The permit was withdrawn, however, a week later, when the ministry approved the paper's publication permit only on condition that the word "Allah" be prohibited and that the paper only be circulated to Christians. The church responded that the Malay-language edition of the paper is mostly read by tribes who converted to Catholicism or other Christian faiths, the preponderance of them in the East Malaysia states of Sabah and Sarawak, and that no other word would suffice to describe the deity.
Numerous religious scholars have pointed out that since Christians, Muslims and Jews worship the same god, calling the deity "God" in English means exactly the same thing as calling him "Allah" or "Yahweh" in other languages.
The issue has become intensely political, however, with Malaysia's increasingly assertive fundamentalist Muslims concerned that the Christians are proselytizing Malays in an effort to lure them away from Islam.