Why irritate Muslims by using Allah, Dr Mahathir asks Christians in the peninsula

Against a backdrop of Selangor religious authorities preparing to clamp down on non-Muslims' use of "Allah", Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today questioned Christian motives for “annoying others” with their insistence on using the Arabic word to refer to God.

The country's longest-serving prime minister said the Arabic term for God was only a common usage among Christians in Sabah and Sarawak.

"All this while, we have never quarrelled about this because they (Christians in the peninsula) never use the word, so why irritate other people, it won't hurt them not to use the word Allah.

"They have never used it before. Those who use it are in Sabah and Sarawak, there is no objection. But here in the peninsula, why do we want to find a cause to quarrel," he told reporters at the People's Progressive Party (PPP) New Year open house today.

Dr Mahathir said the people, regardless of their religion, had managed to live together in peace in the country and that any that annoyed others was not a good thing.

Last Friday, Catholic weekly Herald editor Rev Father Lawrence Andrew, said that the Catholic churches in Selangor would continue to use the word Allah in their weekend services in Bahasa Malaysia, which is primarily attended by East Malaysians.

He comments came following a statement from the newly-appointed director of Jais Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad who said the state religious authorities would draw up a list of Selangor churches before writing to ask them to comply with the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988.

“We will write to all the churches in Selangor to respect the law that is in force in relation to this,” he was quoted as saying.

The enactment, which was passed by the Barisan Nasional state government, prohibits non-Muslims in Selangor from using 35 Arabic words and phrases, including “Allah”, “Nabi” (prophet), “Injil” (gospel) and “Insya'Allah” (God willing).

Andrew's statement caused an uproar among various non-governmental organisations, which among others, described his action as not only challenging the sensitivities of Muslims, but also having no respect for the law.

Umno Selangor is threatening to protest at all churches in the state on Sunday unless Andrew apologises for insisting that Christians can use the word “Allah”, reported Umno mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia today.

Umno Gombak division chief Abdul Rahim Kamarudin said they would stage a protest if Andrew does not withdraw his statement by Saturday.

"We have to be firm and cannot condone this. His actions are rude and we want him to apologise to all Muslims," Umno Kota Raja division chief Kamaruzzaman Johari said in the Malay language daily.

Umno Selangor liaison committee deputy chairman Datuk Abdul Shukor Idrus said Andrew was challenging the Sultan of Selangor’s decree prohibiting non-Muslims in the state from using Allah to describe God.

"Looking at His Majesty's decree, it is clearly meant to ensure the harmony of all races and religion in Selangor," he said.

However, lawyers had challenged the Jais move, saying that it was unconstitutional.

The latest to do so is the Catholic Lawyers' Society. Its president, Viola De Cruz Silva, said today there were no provisions in the Federal Constitution banning non-Muslims from propagating their religion in their community or to other non-Muslim communities or groups.

"Therefore, any intended letter from Jais to the churches in Selangor would be invalid," she said in a statement.

Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikkhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) president Jagir Singh said the 2009 decision by High Court judge Datuk Lau Bee Lan ruled that non-Muslims could use words like Allah provided it was confined to their own religious groups.

“It is only an offence by non-Muslims to use such words to propagate their religion to Muslims,” he had told The Malaysian Insider.

The tussle over Allah arose in 2008 when the Catholic newspaper, Herald, was barred by the Home Ministry from using the Arabic word. The Catholic Church had contested this in court and won a High Court decision in 2009 upholding its constitutional right to do so.

Putrajaya later appealed the decision and successfully overturned the earlier decision when the Court of Appeal ruled this October that "Allah was not integral to the Christian faith". – January 1, 2014.

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