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Malaysian Remarks About 'Allah' Generate Christian Concern
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Saturday, July 17, 2010
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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNS)—Malay-speaking Christians in the state of Selangor are now concerned that using the word "Allah" for God could be construed as disobeying the sultan, or local hereditary ruler.

The concern arose after a government official said in Parliament that "those who insult or disobey orders of the sultan, as head of Islam, are committing an offense" under Selangor's Shariah, or Islamic law.

The penalty is a fine of not more than 3,000 ringgit ($938) or a jail term of not more than two years, or both.

Mohamad Nazri Aziz, an official of the prime minister's department in charge of parliamentary affairs, made the remarks July 13 when asked if orders by sultans could be enforced without them being gazetted. He said the fact that such orders were not gazetted did not render them ineffective, and this would include orders made by sultans, as head of Islam in their states, to protect the religion.

Earlier this year, the sultan in Selangor, which surrounds Malaysia's federal capital, Kuala Lumpur, said he wanted the state to abide by the Selangor Fatwa Council's decision that the word "Allah" was exclusive to Muslims.

Some Christian churches in Selangor continue to use "Allah" in their Malay-language services, arguing that "Allah" is the only Malay word for God.

"We are not being disobedient to our sultan," one deacon told UCA News. "But we have a responsibility to preach the word of God to some of our people in the language they best understand, which happens to be Malay."

Malaysia has a dual court system. Most commercial and criminal laws are federal and are based on English Common Law; the Malaysian constitution guarantees freedom of religion. However, personal issues—such as marriage and property—are governed under state-based Shariah courts, overseen by the sultans.

One prominent court case still making its way through the legal system involves the Herald, a national Catholic weekly that challenged a 2007 Home Ministry blanket ban on the use of the word "Allah" in all non-Muslim publications.

On Dec. 31, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled that the Herald could use the word "Allah" to refer to God and that the Home Ministry's order banning certain uses of the word was illegal. The court also ruled that the word "Allah" is not exclusive to Islam.

The Home Ministry appealed the ruling.

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