Long simmering religious tensions are heating up as Malaysia prepares for national elections.
In recent weeks, the Muslim-led government of the Southeast Asian nation has fought over the use of Arabic words such as “Allah” by non-Muslims.
According to Hong Kong’s Asia Times, the Malaysian government has forbidden the use of “Allah” and three other Arabic words and phrases which have been in common use among the nation’s Christian, Sikh and Hindu communities for centuries.
Asia Times quoted deputy minister for internal security Johari Baharumas as saying, “Only Muslims can use (the word) Allah. It’s a Muslim word. It’s from the Arabic language. We cannot let other religions use it because it will confuse people.”
Sikhs, whose religion blends elements of Islam and Hinduism, and who routinely use the word “Allah” for God, are outraged by the ban.
However, late last month, the Associated Press reported that the government backed down from a publishing ban on a Christian newspaper that used the word.
According to Asia Times, observers believe the politically vulnerable government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has been trying to shore up support among its Muslim voters ahead of elections scheduled for next month.
Malaysia is about 60 percent Muslim, with significant populations of Chinese, Indians and other ethnic groups who practice other religions.
“Abdullah’s finger on Malaysia’s election trigger”
Asia Times, January 19, 2008
“Words of faith inflame Malaysia”
Asia Times, January 10, 2008
“Malaysia backpedals on Allah ban for Christian paper, renews its permit”
Associated Press, December 31, 2007