Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Words of faith inflame Malaysia

From Asia Times Online
In a move that threatens to further inflame already mounting religious and ethnic tensions, the Malaysian government announced that certain Arabic words such as 'Allah' cannot be used in the literature, gospel and speeches of non-Muslim faiths.

Three other commonly used words ordered excluded from non-Muslim lexicon are 'Baitullah' (House of God), 'solat' (prayer) and 'Kaabah' (sacred house). …

"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," deputy minister for internal security Johari Baharum told the press in explaining the rationale for the controversial decision. "We cannot allow this use of 'Allah' in non-Muslim publications; nobody except Muslims [can use it]. The word 'Allah' is published by the Catholics. It's not right," he said. …

"There is fear that the use of Arabic words common to Muslims and Christians aids proselytizing," said a Muslim cleric who asked not to be identified. "Muslims have long feared Christian proselytizing and the fear surfaced strongly after the Lina Joy case," the cleric added, referring to the case of Malay woman Azalina Jailani who converted to Christianity and was then subjected to a brutal legal battle that ended last year with the highest federal court ruling that the country's Muslims cannot legally leave their faith. …

It is considered an offence to proselytize among Muslims and punishment may include a fine or jail term. …
Apparently, the Christians accept the ban on proselytizing.
In a statement, the Christian Federation of Malaysia expressed "deep disappointment and regret" at the government's decision. "The words predate Islam and it is wrong to bar others from using them in private worship and internal Christian publications," said the federation's executive secretary, Reverend Herman Shastri.

"We never preach to Muslims and they should not worry," he said, rejecting the government's arguments for the policy.
Of course, it's no more about religion than the "values" debate in this country is — or about values either. It's "red states" against "blue states."
Political observers say political compulsions prompted the government to move ahead with the ban, even though it is clearly unpopular with non-Muslims minority groups. With general elections around the corner, they said, the government is appeasing the conservative Muslim majority to win political support at a time Abdullah's popularity is falling.

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