Malaysian Christians and Muslims Fight Over Right to Use ‘Allah’
January 12, 2010
(ChattahBox)—An ongoing battle between Malaysia’s majority Muslim population and the country’s Malay-speaking Christians, over religious ownership of the word “Allah,” has led to Muslim anger and political unrest. Over the weekend, several Christian churches were vandalized and firebombed, after a recent court decision that overturned a government ban forbidding Christians from referring to their God, as “Allah.” The violence underscores the simmering political anger and growing racial divisions in the multi-ethnic country where Muslim Malays account for 60 percent of the population. Despite the racial and ethnic mix in the Southeast Asian country, the Malay Malaysians, whom are primarily Muslim and and the minority Chinese and Indian population who are Christians, have lived in peace until recent political tensions.
Many Malaysians are pointing to the Prime Minister Najib Razak’s weakening ruling coalition, as the reason for recent divisions between Muslims and Christians. Razak is seeking to strengthen his power by appeasing Muslim Malays. The United Malays National Organization is the governing party. And only about 9 percent of Malaysians are Christians.
The recent court ruling allowed a Catholic newspaper to use “Allah” in its Malay-language edition and violence against Christian churches soon ensued. And the Borneo Evangelical Church is embroiled in another court case, challenging the government’s confiscation of Sunday school materials in 2007, containing the word “Allah.”
The use of “Allah” is common among Malay-speaking Christians, especially in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak. And according to the New York Times, it’s also used in other countries, “where Arabic- and Malay-language Bibles describe Jesus as the “son of Allah.” But the Muslims say the word “Allah” can only be used in Islam.
The rising religious tensions and violence couldn’t come at a worse time for Malaysia’s struggling economy. Nicholas Jeffreys, president of the American Chambers of Commerce in Malaysia, said “Any negative news for any country doesn’t play well in terms of investors.”