The Catholic church in Malaysia has received overwhelming support from Christian groups around the world, with regards to the right to use ‘Allah’ in its weekly publication, Herald.
Support for the Catholic church continues to pour in from all over the world as it faces the highest court in the country to ask for leave to appeal the ban of the word Allah in its weekly publication, Herald.
Several international groups of different church denominations have come together to express their solidarity and support for the Catholic Church as it prepares to continue its seven-year tussle over the Arabic word for God.
The Christian groups, in expressing its support, said they are keeping the country, its Christian community and the authorities in prayer in light of tomorrow’s’ Federal Court hearing.
In a letter addressed to the Council of Churches Malaysia, the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) said that any action which compromised on freedom of religion and conscience is an “expression of injustice”.
“In that sense, the October 2013 Court of Appeal ruling is problematic and can only serve to escalate conflict and even violence. It is this, that we in the WCRC, want to point out,” said its general secretary Reverend Dr Setri Nyomi.
“There are many countries in the world in which Christians and Muslims use the word Allah for God without any conflict.
“As an organisation that has more than 80 million members, operating in 108 countries, the WCRC is very much aware of the values that can be gained in Malaysian Christians and Muslims embracing norms and practices that will make for better peaceful co-existence.”
The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) concurred, saying that Christians have used the word Allah for centuries in many parts of the world, including countries with majority Muslims in Southeast Asia.
“We believe that it is not the role of the government to limit or shape religious beliefs, practices or expressions,” said BWA general secretary Neville Callam in a similar letter to the CCM.
“These restrictions have led to more conflicts and have become the main obstacles to achieving security, peace, development and prosperity.”
The imposition against the Church, he added, only serves to undermine Malaysia’s reputation as a religiously tolerant and culturally pluralistic country.
“The ban also contradicts the guarantee of freedom of religion to all that is enshrined in Malaysia’s constitution,” he said.
The Salvation Army (TSA) Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar territorial commander Colonel Lyndon Buckingham also expressed his concerns on attempts to restrict the use of the word Allah.
“We are also concerned that it will lead to increased tension and polarisation in the country,” he wrote in a letter to Malaysian churches.
“We stand in solidarity with the churches in Malaysia, organisations like the Bible Society of Malaysia and other Christians who have become the target of unwarranted and undeserved protests.”
They join the World Methodist Council (WMC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the World Council of Churches (WCC), who had all previously declared their support for the Malaysian Catholic church.
“The Malaysian courts need look no further than neighbouring Indonesia to see that Christians and Muslims refer to God as Allah, without incident or controversy,” WMC general secretary Bishop Ivan Abrahams said in a letter last month.
ECLA also said that in Christian communities in the Muslim world and in countries where Arabic words permeate local languages, God has always been referred to as Allah.
“This is not just a matter of faith, but also a reality of history and language.
“It is with great sadness that we witness the burden you bear in the controversy in Malaysia over the use of the word Allah,” said ELCA’s Bishop Elizabeth Eaton in a letter dated February 5.
WCC general secretary Reverend Dr OlavFykse Tveit said that the shared use of the word Allah, the Arabic word for God, for centuries by Christians and Muslims had built a bridge for interfaith dialogue when speaking of the Divine.
However, the legal precedent in Malaysia, he said, obscured the recognition of this shared heritage and political discourse, referring to the Court of Appeal’s decision last year.
Last October, the court reversed a 2009 High Court decision that overturned the Home Ministry’s ban on the use of the word Allah in Herald’s Bahasa Malaysia section.
The Catholic Church then filed an appeal against the decision with the Federal Court.
Tension over the “Allah” issue heightened earlier this year after the Selangor Islamic Department raided the Bible Society of Malaysia and seized more than 300 Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia and Iban languages, containing the word Allah.
A Selangor enactment prohibits non-Muslims from using the word, along with 33 other Arabic words.