Clash over use of ‘Allah’

(The Straits Times) – Two Malaysian Cabinet members are at odds over the use of the word 'Allah' by a Catholic publication.

The issue is now before the High Court with the Catholic Church seeking a ruling on the right to continue using the word.

Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, leader of the Upko political party in Sabah and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, said the terminology is widely used in Indonesia and also in Arab countries by Christians.

'So it is a universal terminology used in the Christian world when they are praying in their vernacular language. There is no reason for the Home Ministry to continue harassing the Catholic Herald,' The Malaysian Insider reported him as saying.

His Cabinet colleague, Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, hit back at him last Saturday when he told Mingguan Malaysia: 'There are some non-Muslim leaders who are asking that permission be granted so that the word 'Allah' can be used, using Indonesia as an example.

'This is Malaysia. Do not equate us with another country. We are an Islamic country as stated in the Constitution,' he said, adding that there was a hidden agenda to use the word 'Allah' in the Herald, the Catholic publication.

In raising this issue, Mr Ahmad Zahid said a small group of non-Muslim leaders was trying to question the position of Islam in Malaysia.

Islam is the official religion under the Federal Constitution while the right of non-Muslims to worship is also protected.

'Don't play with fire and challenge the Muslims. We are willing to do anything to protect our religion,' he warned.

Muslims have long feared that Christian groups are bent on preaching and converting followers of Islam. They see the use of the word 'Allah' as a subtle way of spreading Christianity to Muslims – a charge church leaders have dismissed.

The 'Allah' issue could have an impact on a by-election in Pensiangan, Sabah, which is likely to be called when a court rules on election irregularities soon.

Mr Dompok represents the Kadazandusun community in Sabah, many of whom are Christians.