Malaysian Christians must obey rules forbidding them from using the word “Allah”, the country’s leader was quoted saying Friday, breaking his silence in a festering row that has raised fears of religious conflict.Najib Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia, addresses the 9th World Islamic Economic Forum in London on October 29, 2013
The comments by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak met with immediate dismay from Christians, who have called the issue an example of growing Islamic intolerance that threatens to tarnish the Muslim-majority country’s moderate image.
Muslim conservatives including the country’s king have recently stepped up demands that Malay-speaking Christians not use the Arabic word to refer to the Christian God, saying it is reserved for Muslims.
“Allah” also is used by the Muslim ethnic Malay majority in Islamic worship.
The issue sparked a spate of attacks in 2010 on places of worship, mostly churches.
Mr Najib’s government in 2011 announced a compromise that allowed limited use of the word by non-Muslims.
But on Friday he said the so-called “10-point agreement” was subservient to other laws and royal decrees.
“The 10-point agreement is subjected to federal and state laws,” Mr Najib was quoted saying by news portal Malaysiakini.
As tensions have resurfaced in recent weeks, Christians have called on Mr Najib — who portrays himself as a moderate — to speak out in support of minorities’ constitutionally guaranteed freedom to worship as they see fit.
“Of course we are extremely disappointed,” Rev Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, said of Najib’s comments.
Rev Shastri told AFP churches would continue to do so in their services and in Bibles.
“We are going to take it up with the government again, that they are going back on their word.”
Malay Muslims make up 60% of multi-ethnic Malaysia’s 28 million people. About 2.6 million people are Christians.
The current dispute was sparked in 2007 when Mr Najib’s Muslim-dominated government ordered a Catholic weekly newspaper to stop printing the word.
The Herald has challenged the order in a long-running court battle.
A court in October struck down the Herald‘s challenge. It has appealed.
Days later, police began investigating the newspaper’s editor, a Catholic priest, for sedition after he said church sermons would continue using the word.
Saturday, 25 January 2014