This past October (2013) the Malaysian government upheld a ban forbidding Malaysian Christians from using the word “Allah” in written form. This move was widely lambasted across the West and Muslim world, with most scholars agreeing that religious authorities in Malaysia have no right to take such an action. Now, a recent move by authorities in the state of Selangor to seize bibles with the word “Allah” in them will likely ratchet up tensions.
Malaysian authorities have argued that the use of the word Allah will confuse Muslims and could possibly be used to encourage their conversion. Christians have countered that “Allah” is simply the word for god, and since the Christian god and Islamic god are the same, the government has no right to ban the use of the word. Regardless, authorities seem bent on carrying out the ban on bibles using the word Allah.
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Religious authorities act on Sultan’s decree
The government’s increasing hard-lined stance became apparent when the religious authorities, JAIS, detained leaders from the Bible Society and then launched a search of the group’s premises, confiscating some 300 bibles in the process. JAIS was acting on a ruling from the Sultan of Selangor, who banned the use of the word Allah by Christians. In Malaysia, sultans hold little legal authority but do have the final say over religious matters.
Despite the Sultan’s ruling, most Islamic scholars agree that the use of the word Allah is not limited to just Muslims. As Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all Abrahamic religions, and represent different interpretations and faiths centered around the same god, most Islamic scholars agree that any of the three religions can use the word “Allah.”
What will happen to the bibles remains unknown, but there is a good chance that they could be destroyed by government officials. If this is done and made public, the Malaysian government could face a backlash from the international community, with most developed countries preaching tolerance of religious differences.
Sign of rising tensions in Malaysia?
While Malaysia is not home to a large Christian minority, Muslims only represent a slight majority in the country. Malaysia is also home to many Hindu, Buddhist, and non-religious individuals. The increasing tensions between Christians and Muslims highlights the increasing tensions between Muslims and other faiths in the country, which could become a major problem in the future.
The increasing conservationism of the ruling government might suggest that the ruling party will grow more hard lined in an effort to shore up support among Muslims as pressures mount. The strategy might backfire, however, by encouraging members of other belief communities to unit and driving moderate Muslims away from the ruling party.