Just a few days after a Malaysian court ruling allowing a Catholic newspaper to use the word Allah to refer to God seemed to offer the nation’s minority Christians a small civil victory, the government has reinistated its “Allah” ban among non-Muslims. Malaysian officials are apparently trying to get ahead of Muslim anger in the streets in the aftermath of the court decision. There have been days of street demonstrations protesting the ruling. The nation of 28 million is 68 percent Muslim. The war over the word has roots in the peculiarities of Malay Muslim culture, other Islamic states show little concern over non-Muslim use of "Allah," but this sudden spike in sectarian tension may also be attributable to recent efforts by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to shore up support among Malay ethnics.
On Dec. 31, the Kuala Lumpur High Court overruled the ban, which was instated three years ago, affirming that it was unconstitutional, arguing that the word "Allah" is not exclusive to Islam. It granted the Catholic daily Herald, which was using the word as a translation for God in the Malay language section of the periodical, permission to print "Allah."
But, according to the Zenit news service, protesting Muslim groups say that Christians and other minorities should not use "Allah" for "fear of confusing Muslims." Soon after the government reversal, an explosion damaged the administrative offices of Metro Tabernacle Church, a Protestant church in Kuala Lumpur, and Molotov cocktails were thrown into several other churches, including the Catholic Church of the Assumption in Petaling Jaya. Fortunately, no injuries were reported.
The issue was further clouded by the Malaysian home ministry secretary-general Mahmood Adam. At a briefing aimed at keeping representatives of foreign missions informed about government efforts to respond to anti-Christian violence, Adam helpfully explained that indeed “Allah” was a word reserved only for Muslims in Malaysia. “They wanted a better understanding of how the word 'Allah' is applied in Malaysia in comparison with, say, Indonesia,” Adam told reporters. “We explained why in some countries it is used across the board while in other landscapes like Malaysia, it is exclusive to Islam.
In a cooling off effort, Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, said the newspaper will not use the word Allah "until the judiciary issues the final ruling."
Let's hope (Inshallah) the "who owns" 'Allah'" craze dies down in Malaysia before it spreads elsewhere in the Islamic world. Maybe the nation's Buddhists can negotiate a custody settlement between the Christians and Muslims. In the meantime, "The Son of Allah" weeps.