KUALA LUMPUR, May 16 – Churches in Southeast Asia’s third largest economy were sent an “Allah” fact sheet today by the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) to educate followers confused by its use, as a row over the Middle Eastern word for god rages on in public.
The umbrella body representing 90 per cent of the country’s churches said it issued the backgrounder to explain to Christians the history of the word here and to teach them how to respond when confronted by those who were ignorant about its use in the Christian context.
“There are many (misleading) statements by non-Christians who claim that we should not use the word, because it is an exclusive Muslim term for the God of Islam and can be used only by Muslims.
“This is a situation peculiar to Malaysia, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, Arabic-speaking Christians use the word ‘Allah’,” CFM said in a statement.
It noted that some Muslims here had challenged the Christian use of the word as a bid to confuse and convert Muslims, which they see to be a threat to national security.
But the CFM said such claims were not substantiated by facts.
Malaysia’s supreme law dictates that Malays – who are the country’s largest racial community at 60 per cent of the 28 million population – must also be Muslim. The Federal Constitution recognises this demography as possessing a “special position”.
In contrast, Christians make up just under 10 per cent of the country’s population.
The CFM emphasised that the use of the word was to cater to its Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians, who formed the bulk of its congregation and could be traced to the Peranakan community in Malacca as well as in Borneo Malaysia.
Bumiputera Christians make up one-third of Sabah’s population and more than half of Sarawak’s.
“Malaysian Churches have never suggested changing the words ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ to ‘Allah’ and ‘Tuhan’ respectively, in the other languages of the Bible,” CFM said.
In the three-page fact sheet, it pointed out that the word “Allah” that is used in the Christian context originated from the Hebrew language that dated back to the 5th century BC.
According to CFM, the Hebrew language shared the same root as the Arabic language, which predates Islam and as such should not be confused as a creation by Muslims.
It further explained that the word as used in the Christian context could not be replaced with the Malay word for god “Tuhan” – as has been suggested by some groups – as their holy text used both words to connote different things.
“If Churches in Malaysia agree to stop using the word ‘Allah’, it means that the right to edit the Scripture of a major world religion has been given over to a secular government.
“This would be a shameful and an unprecedented development for any religion and government,” CFM said.
The “Allah” storm had erupted some five years ago when the Catholic Church took the Home Ministry to court after it was barred from publishing the word in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its newspaper, Herald.
In 2009, the High Court ruled the Catholic Church had a right to use “Allah” as the word was not exclusive to Islam.
The Home Ministry is appealing the ruling, and its case will be called up later this month.
Following the landmark judgment however, several places of worship nationwide were attacked. The authorities had also seized imported shipments of the Malay-language bible containing the word “Allah”.
The government had set up an inter-faith committee at the federal level to address religious disputes soon after, but the national panel appears to have fallen into a slump following the death of its first chairman Datuk Ilani Isahak, from cancer in early 2011.
Since then, several groups, including partisan media, have raised the “Allah” issue in an attempt to score political points for their owners ahead of the hotly contested 13th general election, and again in the aftermath.
Umno-owned Malay broadsheet, Utusan Malaysia, had published an incendiary front-page report in May 2011 asking, “Malaysia negara Kristian? (Malaysia a Christian state?)” which alleged the opposition DAP of plotting to install a Christian prime minister and supplant Islam as the country’s official religion.