The Sultan of the Malaysian state Selangor has issued a decree that the sacred word ‘Allah’ can be used only by Muslims. The move put more fire into controversy in the state where language peculiarities also make Christians use the term.
“Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah made a decision and decreed that the word ‘Allah’ is a sacred word specific to Muslims and it is prohibited to be used by any non-Muslim in Selangor,” the Islamic Affairs Council of the Selangor state said Tuesday. The body added “a stern action” was ordered against those questioning the new fatwa, but did not elaborate.
The sultan, mufti and council convened after the chief minister of another state, Penang, urged the central government to allow the word ‘Allah’ to be used in the Malay translation of the Bible, national daily The Star Online reported.
Over 28 million people live in Malaysia, out of them:
61.3% are Muslims
19.8% are Buddhists
9.2% are Christians
6.3% are Hindus
3.4% practice other or no religion
Source: 2010 Census
Christians in Indonesia and Malaysia also use ‘Allah’ to refer to God in their languages. This comes through traditional translations of the Bible made back in the 16th-17th centuries which put the Hebrew’s ‘Elohim’ (‘God’ in English holy books) as ‘Allah’.
But in 2007 the central Malaysian government decided to put an end to the old tradition and limited the usage of the term to the Muslim context only. This was revoked by the High Court two years later; the judges said the law was unconstitutional. The government appealed the ruling and the short-lived implementation of the 2009 court verdict has since been suspended.
Sultan Sharafuddin’s decree could not but create an immediate political standoff. It comes on the eve of a broad meeting called by Pakatan Rakyat, a national affiliation within the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). For the convention, Pakatan Rakyat allowed the use of ‘Allah’ to all groups, including non-Muslims.
Just minutes after the forbidding decree, PAS leadership endorsed by other opposition parties proclaimed they stand firm by their decision.
“‘Allah’ in its original Koran meaning stands for ‘The One and Only God’ and it should not be misused by others against the Muslim community, to the point of creating confusion,” PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang said. “Nevertheless, Islam does not stop followers of other religions from using the word ‘Allah’ in practicing their faith, although it might not be equitable to the actual meaning of the original Koranic word.”
Malaysia’s Council of Churches also said it will continue to use the word “Allah” in the Malay version of the Bible.
“Many indigenous communities in our nation have incorporated this word in their everyday language. That being the case, we shall continue this practice, and call on all parties to respect this fundamental right,” the prominent organization said in a statement adding the practice was a right “guaranteed to them in the country’s Federal Constitution” under Article 11, which secures freedom of religion.
However, officials across the country reacted positively to the reaffirmed ban on the word, some of them saying that Sultan Sharafuddin has every right to issue such decrees, him being the head of the state’s Islamic affairs.