MALAYSIA’S king gave his backing yesterday to a court ruling barring non-Muslims from using the word Allah to refer to God, weighing in for the first time on an issue that has fanned religious tensions in the multi-cultural country.
Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam, whose role as head of state is largely ceremonial, alluded to the issue which has raised questions over miniority rights during his birthday speech to the Southeast Asian nation.
A court in October ruled that the word was exclusive to majority Malay Muslims, overturning an earlier decision allowing a Catholic newspaper to use Allah in its Malay-language edition. The court ruling has since prompted Muslim leaders to call for demonstrations against Christians who do not comply. Christians make up about 9 percent of Malaysia’s 29 million people. “In the context of a pluralistic society, religious sensitivities especially related to Islam as the religion of the federation should be respected,” Sultan Abdul Halim said in the speech released by state news agency Bernama.
“Confusion and controversy can be averted if there is adherence to the provisions of the law and judicial decisions.”
Police are currently investigating a Catholic priest under sedition laws for insisting the word can be used by non-Muslims in Malay, the country’s national language. Sultan Abdul Halim is one of the nine sultans who take turns every five years to serve as head of state. While the king has limited powers, he is regarded as a defender of the Islamic faith and is deeply respected by the Malay Muslims who make up 60 per cent of the population. The sultans have become increasingly vocal about their role in defending Islam.
They have the authority to appoint clerics and instruct religious police to safeguard the faith in Malaysian states that they head.
Monday, January 20, 2014