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King backs exclusive use of 'Allah' for Muslim M'sians
Publication Date : 20-01-2014
Malaysia's king, citing a 1986 decree, has declared the use of "Allah" to be the exclusive right of Muslims and asked that religious sensitivity pertaining to Islam be observed.
His comments came after the federal government reiterated recently its commitment to allowing Malay-speaking Christians to use Bibles containing "Allah".
Tuanku Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah, who is also the Sultan of Kedah, said on Sunday that the decree by the National Fatwa Council determined that certain words, including "Allah", were exclusive to Muslims and that this should be respected to maintain peace and order in the country.
"In the context of a multiracial society, religious sensitivity, in particular Islam as the official religion of the Federation, must be observed," he said in a speech. "Confusion and controversy can be avoided if all parties abide by the law and judicial decisions."
Tuanku Abdul Halim, who as king is the head of Islam in the country, is the latest Malay ruler to claim exclusivity for the use of "Allah".
The sultans of Selangor and Pahang made similar statements last year, amid growing tension between Christians and the government on restrictions in the community's faith practices.
Syahredzan Johan, a lawyer, said the king's words are not legally binding as Malaysia is governed by the Federal Constitution, its supreme laws.
"It is at best, an opinion, as our rights are protected by laws that have to go through the legislative process," he told The Straits Times on Sunday.
Dr Shaharuddin Badaruddin, an analyst from Universiti Teknologi Mara, said it is common for Malay rulers to state their position on religious matters so it is unlikely that moderates would be alarmed by the king's statement.
"Rather, it is the polemics by politicians in recent years that have made the Allah issue go haywire," he told The Straits Times.
The Allah controversy has further strained relations between the Church and the government this year. Last week, Umno branches in Selangor kicked off a series of state-wide roadshows to educate people on the exclusivity of "Allah" to Muslims.
This came after Selangor state religious officers raided the Bible Society of Malaysia earlier this month and confiscated Malay-language Bibles. The move sparked fears that the Islamic authorities in other states would do the same.
More than 60 per cent of Malaysians are Malay-Muslims. Ten per cent are Christians, who live mainly in Sabah and Sarawak and use Malay- or Iban-language Bibles that refer to God as "Allah".
In Peninsular Malaysia, however, the government and the Catholic Church have been embroiled in a legal battle over the use of "Allah" by a Catholic weekly since 2007. In 2011, the government said it would allow Malay-language Bibles to be imported and also printed locally.
Last Friday, Law Minister Nancy Shukri said that the government is committed to keeping its promise, but that it cannot interfere in state religious affairs.
"Whatever it is that the religious authorities in Selangor are enforcing, how they practise their religion, it is their prerogative," she told reporters.