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PMs assured Christians of use of “Allah”

PETALING JAYA, 13 Jan 2010: Even though the government banned the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims in 1986, the churches refrained from court action for more than 20 years because of assurances from two prime ministers.

Council of Churches of Malaysia general secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri told The Nut Graph that Christian leaders were assured that “Allah” could be used, as long as it was limited to within the Christian community. This was in spite of a 1986 government gazette and 1988 state enactments that declared the words “Allah“, “solat”, “ka’abah” and “Baitullah” as exclusive to Islam.

“(Former Prime Minister Tun Dr) Mahathir (Mohamad’s) position was if Christians use the word ‘Allah’ among ourselves, sell our bibles in Christian bookshops, and indicate it’s a Christian publication, then that was fine,” said Shastri.

“Mahathir and [Tun Abdullah Ahmad] Badawi both assured the Christian community that it would not be an issue [using ‘Allah’] within our community.”

Shastri said although they did not agree with the government gazette and state enactments, the church refrained from legal action in the interest of national harmony because Mahathir had said the issue was sensitive.

Shastri stressed that Christians did not use “Allah” to slight Muslims. Rather, “it’s part and parcel of our spiritual and devotional life,” he said.

Issue not new

Shastri also said it was unfair to describe the issue of Christians using “Allah” as new, as some have claimed.

He explained that Christians have been encountering intermittent problems for the past two decades, such as Bahasa Indonesia bibles being held at customs, or the occasional compact disc being confiscated.

The items however, were usually released on a case-by-case basis after the prime minister’s intervention, he said.

Shastri said this understanding with the government broke down when Catholic paper Herald was banned from using “Allah” by the Home Ministry in their Bahasa Malaysia publication in 2007.

“The Herald had no other choice. The only way open was to take the matter to court,” he said.

Challenging the state

Andrew Khoo, lawyer and legal adviser to the Anglican Bishop of West Malaysia, said the 1986 gazette should have been challenged when it was first issued.

But Khoo noted that it was usual for such issues to have been discussed privately and resolved quietly, which could also explain the delay in legal action being taken.

“Perhaps we were satisfied with the then prime minister’s assurances,” Khoo said.

Khoo added that in 1988, there was no desire to confront the issue by suing the government in court.

This reluctance was in the wake of Operasi Lalang in 1987, where more than 100 people from civil society, including church members, and opposition leaders were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act. The crackdown was followed by the removal of Lord President Tun Salleh Abas in 1988.

With regard to the 1988 state enactments on the use of “Allah”, Khoo said no one had been prosecuted thus far.

“The enactments can’t be challenged unless there’s a prosecution,” Khoo said.

He noted that the preamble of the Selangor enactment states that the law intended to “control and restrict the propagation of non-Islamic religious doctrines and beliefs among persons professing the religion of Islam.”

“Although the section [on the use of ‘Allah’] is very wide, the preamble sets the context,” said Khoo, adding that the imposed condition, while not ideal, was workable.

For related stories, see In the Spotlight: Political Islam

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21 Responses to “PMs assured Christians of use of “Allah””

  1. ahoo says:

    The issue herein may not be that simple. It has got to do with politics of the powers that be. They see things differently for others as they need to pander to their supporters first and then others. But the fact that things get to this level can also be that the issue in its early days was not addressed but swept under the carpet by just saying it is sensitive. After two decades the bulge under the carpet can be seen by everyone and the discussions behind closed doors with give-and-take attitudes no longer apply. The rights of others are for political bargaining and the parties that represented the many Malaysians are awfully behind time. They do too little too late to correct the imbalance to date.

  2. Gopal Raj Kumar says:

    Use of the word Allah and freedom to practice religions other than Islam in Malaysia are not guaranteed in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

    At the heart of this debate is what’s seen by Muslims as a sinister use of the word Allah unique to their reference to God.

    They are parciularly offended and quite rightly so especially with the Catholic Church’s forays into Sarawak and Sabah where it seeks to and has continued to convert Muslims from amongst the local population (the tribes) to Catholicism.

    There have been many arguments raised in favour of what’s incorrectly seen as an attempt by government to deny Christians a “right” they enjoy under the constitution.

    What’s not raised in these arguments for convenience of Christians is the qualification on their “rights” to practice their faith in Malaysia under the constitution which they have breached with relative impunity for ages now.

    The powers of the state and federal governments where any action or omission by any religion detrimental to peace and harmony is unequivocal. This is but one example where the government must act.

    The church had been part of an unholy chorus in attacking Malaysia, its government, its main political driver Umno, and generally favouring opposition-led campaigns against the government and its majority constituents – Malay-Muslim [Malaysians].

    The efforts by publications such as yours to stifle debate through censorship in this particular matter continues unabated. Such conduct by The Nut Graph at times such as this is unhelpful.

    Gopal Raj Kumar

    Editor’s note: Gopal, we do not practise censorship. We have an editorial policy. Two very different issues which have been explained to you before. We welcome comments and opinions and edit them according to the policy, not to censor. And we thank you for continuing to read and support The Nut Graph and for sharing your opinions.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  3. sadmalaysian says:

    [Dr Mahathir] will conveniently say that he has a memory loss.

  4. fransayer says:

    Well, I fully agree with you, Mr.Gopal. “Allah” is not guaranteed under Article 11, as long as the present government is still in power. No way we can solve this either by dialogue or by going to courts. I would like to advice our good and sincere Malaysian citizens that come the 13th general election, let [us] throw them one by one into the ocean.

  5. t says:

    Gopal, the majority of local populations in Sabah and Sarawak are indigenous peoples who originally did not practice Islam or Christianity. To insinuate that Catholics are converting the Muslims among the indigenous population is rather presumptuous of you. Are you making an assumption that all indigenous peoples in Sabah and Sarawak were Muslims?

  6. Ram says:

    This is their way of telling you not to be funny…they can do whatever they like. If the Americans start claiming for their rights in usage of words, wonder what will happen to the bahasa words [like ‘teknologi’].

  7. Amazed citizen says:

    Gopal Raj Kumar, you have got to be joking to have the arrogance to write this farcical, non-factual sentence:

    “The church had been part of an unholy chorus in attacking Malaysia, its government, its main political driver Umno, and generally favouring opposition-led campaigns against the government and its majority constituents – Malay-Muslim [Malaysians].”

    What evidence do you have to support your defamatory claim that the Christian church in Malaysia (or any particular church) is attacking Malaysia and the present government?

    While arsonists are attacking churches in this country for the ninth time to date and still going on, you are busy claiming that Christians are attacking the government.

    Shame on you for siding with the arsonists and going against the government’s stance that the opposite is true: that Malaysia’s future and wellbeing is under attack by evil forces, part of which are fermenting among the ambitious politicians and [members of the public] like you.

    So please explain yourself if you wish to debate in a truly free press like The Nut Graph.

  8. D'evil says:

    Do you think a government that does not honour a peace agreement would honour a verbal agreement? You have got to be joking.

  9. Lion says:

    From time immemorial church officials have always do the same thing — they never stand up for the rights of the Christians.

    When the government wants to convert the Church schools into Sekolah Kebangsaan, “Okay”, say the Church officials, without even consulting the Church laities.

    When the government says, “You can’t use _Allah_ no more”, again the Church officials say, “Okay”, without even thinking of the impact.

    Again and again the Church officials retreated when they should have stood up to defend the rights of Christians.

    Finally this blew up.

    What are the Church officials saying this time?

    “But they told us we can use that word mah …”

    Yeah, right!

    Why didn’t you guys protest back in 1986?

    Why didn’t you guys ask help from Church networks around the world back in 1986?

    True, Umno should take the major portion of the blame, for whatever has happened.

    But the Church officials too have to take up their share of the blame.

    If it wasn’t for their cowardice, the Christians would not have lost so much of their inalienable rights to those fascists in the first place!

    Am I being too harsh on the Church officials?


    They swore to GOD that they would tender to the sheep, and they have done NOTHING.

  10. nehemiah says:

    Editor Shanon Shah,

    It is amazing that you can allow this gentlemen Gopal to make the following outrageous and unfounded remark without engaging him. Granted he has the right of freedom of expression, he is the type of people who may be unwillingly encouraging violent strife in Malaysia:

    “The church had been part of an unholy chorus in attacking Malaysia, its government, its main political driver Umno, and generally favouring opposition-led campaigns against the government and its majority constituents – Malay-Muslim [Malaysians].”

    While churchs have been attacked, it is only in bolehland that a person like Gopal, using a twisted reverse psychology, can claim that the churches are actually attacking the nation and the government.

    For your info, my church and thousands of M’sian Christians have been praying for years each day for God to bless Malaysia and her leaders, especially the PM and to keep Malaysia peaceful, prosperous and safe from natural disasters.

    Editor’s note: As far as possible, we try to verify information, and to separate fact from opinion in moderating the comments section. Occasionally, as I’m sure you can tell, this can be a difficult thing to do. Many of Gopal’s comments have been rejected in the past because he has provided unsubstantiated and unverified information. As editor, I have made this standard known many times in this very forum.

    As far as this particular opinion of Gopal’s is concerned, this is where your testimony is valuable and needs to be inserted into the public forum. Hopefully, not only Gopal reads your comment and digests it, but more readers will be exposed to this debate and a better and more productive conversation emerges after that.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

    • mike samuel says:

      Strange…but I’d like to KNOW what were your “PRAYERS FOR” the likes of NAJIB and his cohorts…who CARED nothing of the people of Sabah all this while since we agreed to FORM Malaysia back then in 1963! Or are you saying that Sabah only “JOINED” Malaysia and is rightly merely one of the 13 states that made Malaysia?? I advise that you READ first the article I annexed above by Pst Brutus Balan. It contains a mountain of truths on Allah and who exactly is he to Judeo-Christianity and to the Muslims! Read also an article on “INVESTIGATING ALLAH” and related articles by Christian apologists. I FULLY concur with Pst Balan that…”IT WAS WRONG FOR CHRISTIANS TO CALL ALLAH THEIR ELOHIM AND IT IS STILL WRONG NOW…” Calling YAHWEH as ALLAH is affront to true Christianity, BLASPHEMOUS and ANATHEMIC to Christians. Agape Love.

  11. Tan says:

    If the assurances as claimed by the CCM secretary general are true, then our ex-PM should come forward to clarify the matter instead of remaining silent as it is tantamount to breaking promises. As an ex-premier, he should stand by his word even though he no longer holds a position in the government. Let’s vote the BN out of federal government if their assurances are not honoured.

  12. tunfaisal says:

    I would like to share a number of interesting thoughts of Pastor Brutus Balan of a Baptist Church in Australia on Facebook (FB). I hope he doesn’t mind.

    In his posting Brutus Balan said,

    1. In today’s religious context, the word ‘Allah’ is a word loaded with Islamic theology. The God of the Christian Bible Yahweh-Elohim from Genesis to Revelation is a trinitarian mono God. It is not a creation of the Church but it is an inspired revelation. Its maths is hard to understand but it is the heart of John 3:16, and Jesus’s life would be nonsensical as much as His sacrifice for sinful and doomed humanity if the second person of the Trinity did not incarnate in the human flesh. The Christian Gospel is based on this redemptive revelation of the triune Godhead. The Quranic concept of ‘Allah’ is in total opposition to this. There is NO similarity between them whatsoever.

    2. The early ‘Christian missionaries’, mostly Roman Catholics erred when they started to Christianize pagan words (jargon/terminology), concepts, icons, statues (Mother and child), festivals and celebrations (like Christmas/Easter) and included them as Christian so the ‘converts’ from the Christianised societies were not brought into a cultural vacuum. Therefore the word `Allah’ that pre-dates Islam, a word that was and is a non-Hebrew word for a pagan deity was Christianised and retained among the Middle-Eastern converts and used in the Bible translation. This syncretism was followed in Asia with the use of the word, Allah among minority ethnic ‘converts’. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.

  13. Lion says:

    I need to know why none of the churches, back in 1986, told their parishioners about the cabinet decision to ban the word “Allah” ? Why did the church officials carry out a “secret pact” with two previous prime ministers instead of being truthful to the churchgoers? Why didn’t the church have faith in their parishioners, instead of believing in Umno?

    What happened to the priority of the Church? To have faith in God or to believe in the devious Umno?

  14. Kate Green, Zombie Shooter says:


    The Church, either in the Catholic or the Protestant understanding of the word, is not a political entity — no matter how powerful the Pope was in certain periods of history. Her duty is not to topple or dismantle governments that are corrupt, else St Peter would not be instructing the flock to pray for the Roman emperor who was throwing Christians into gladiator arenas. Her duty is the shepherding of souls, in order that the being of believers may be sanctified of sin, or if one is Protestant, that saints on earth will be able to persevere in their faith and attain that crown of glory.

    In other words, the Church was able to function and fulfill that duty with a verbal agreement, and as far as those verbal agreements went, it worked. The priority *is* the flock. Had the Church moved too hard against the government, it would be perceived as a political threat, more so for the Catholic Church than any other denomination. And the result would be religious persecution — look at what is happening to Catholics who acknowledge the Pope in China.

    It is beyond the duty of the Church to orchestrate civil disobedience. The verbal agreement worked then. And really, it’s a testimony that the arrangement did work, since no one really complained and there were only occasional Bible seizings, at least until the Home Ministry sought to ban the Herald and the issue exploded into so many directions.

  15. kibin says:

    Gopal Raj Kumar:

    While I don’t know where all your arguments come from, I do have to make a comment on your statement which is, I must say, seemingly ignorant,

    “…especially with the Catholic Church’s forays into Sarawak and Sabah where it seeks to and has continued to convert Muslims from amongst the local population (the tribes) to Catholicism.”

    First, can you give me at least one tribe that YOU know that were Muslims converted into Catholicism? In response, I can give you no less than five different Dayak communities (or okay, “tribes” by your term) that were converted to Islam. And we’re just talking about Sarawak here.

    Second, you forgot that prior to the arrivals of Islam and Christianity, the indigenous communities of Sarawak and Sabah had their own unique sets of belief systems (or “religion” for your convenience) that governed their lives. While there are around 45% of Sarawakians who consider themselves Christians, some of the indigenous communities still practice their traditional spiritual beliefs today.

    Third, spreading Catholicism? Despite what is said in Article 11, I can assure you that your statement “Catholic Church’s forays into Sarawak and Sabah” is totally misplaced. Furthermore, unlike the evangelical churches, Catholicism is limited to the urban areas in Sarawak. Most of the churches in the uprivers of Rajang and Baram are predominantly Protestant.

  16. charles ooi says:

    Past pacts and agreements made by previous PM with the ‘meek ones (the Church) who offer the other cheek to be slapped’ then, are simply forgotten and sacrificed by the then Home Minister (Hamid Albar) on the altar of political expediency and this has dragged our beloved nation into this unproductive and unending debate, which is dialogue at large and in an opinionated manner. But this will bring understanding to all who care to keep an open mind, to read and ponder on the issue. Make us channels of your peace Lord; where there is injury, let us pardon; let us seek first to understand before we are understood. Shalom, Amin, Amen.

  17. Kate Green, Zombie Shooter says:

    Hi tunfaisal,

    Although Pastor Balan, a Baptist minister, has every right to make his comment, he is mistaken on several counts.

    1. Pastor Balan is free to consider things that are entrenched in church tradition (Christian history) as wrong, but for Christians who subscribe to denominations like Catholicism, sacred tradition is part of church teaching, and it includes the dating of Easter and the veneration of Mary. Of course, he is a Baptist, and thus does not regard Christian history as a source of Christian teaching. He is free to practise his own denomination’s understanding of the faith. But he has no authority — only his opinion — in “instructing” the leadership of, say, the Catholic church in Malaysia.

    2. If you were to e-mail Pastor Balan and told him that Muslim authorities in Malaysia were forcing Christians in the country to remove “Allah” from their religious vocabulary and that authorities were seizing Bibles and other religious material because they have the word “Allah” in them, I highly doubt he would be applauding the authorities and encouraging them. It is one thing to encourage a group of believers to attempt a different translation. It is another to force them to do so by depriving them of their holy books. Is the Malaysian government willing to wait five to 20 years for East Malaysian Christians to get themselves used to a new translation?

    3. So one group of Christians has some theological differences with another group of Christians. I am reminded of the controversy in France over the banning of the burqa. Apparently, the French government found support through the opinion of one French Muslim lady who wears neither a burqa nor a hijab, and who declared the burqa nothing but a cultural tool of oppression. So, the French government banned the burqa, despite protests from many other Muslims around the world who felt it violated their rights.

    Do you feel that the French government was right to ban the burqa, given that they have some theological support from a single dissenting liberal Muslim woman?

  18. mike samuel says:

    For the benefit of interested reader(s) who might have missed the article by Pastor Brutus Balan on : “Allah is not the Elohim of the Bible”, I humbly append here several important issues that must be understood and pondered upon by those who call themselves PROPONENTS of the Allah Al-Kitab.” The word ‘Allah’ no matter the origin pre Muhammad is understood in the Islamic context today as the Quranic deity. It is not a word that depicts the Trinitarian Yahweh-Elohim (Lord God) of the Bible. It is wrong for any translation of the Bible in any language to use this word ‘Allah’ to refer to the God of the Bible. Doing so brings confusion and ambiguity between what the Bible teaches as the Trinitarian monotheistic God with that of the ‘Allah’ of the Quran. It cannot be considered as a mere argument over semantics for Christians of the protestant/evangelical variety. To use ‘Allah’ synonymously in reference to the Biblical deity is both confusing for the Muslims and Christians as to which God one is referring to as it is poles apart theologically. There is the danger for both sides untaught of its respective theologies to think it is the same God who is worshipped. Christians must distinguish themselves in their doctrine and not use an Arabic word for the Biblical God. 1. In today’s religious context, the word ‘Allah’ is a word loaded with Islamic theology. The God of the Christian Bible Yahweh-Elohim beginning from Genesis to Revelation is a Trinitarian monotheistic God. It is not a creation of the Church but it is an inspired Biblical revelation. Its mathematics is hard to understand but it is the heart of John 3: 16, the Gospel in a nutshell. That is, the Trinitarian monotheistic God the “Father”, sending forth God the “Son”, Christ Jesus, who incarnated in the human flesh, to offer Himself as the blood-sacrifice, a substitute to take upon Himself the sin of doomed humanity, dying on the cross and rising up again on the third day from the dead thereby saving humanity…

  19. mike samuel says:

    cont: …from God’s wrath upon sin. After Christ resurrection and ascension, as promised by Him, God the Holy Spirit descended upon the earth to indwell every true believer of Christ (the Church), according to the Scriptures (Bible) to enable the believer to live a holy life and to be the seal of redemption testifying in the heart of the forgiveness of sin in Christ Jesus. The Christian Gospel is based on this redemptive revelation of the triune Godhead. The Quranic concept of ‘Allah’ is in total opposition to this. There is NO similarity between them whatsoever.
    2. The early ‘Christian missionaries’, erred when they started to Christianize pagan words so that the ‘converts’ from the Christianized colonies and communities are not brought into a religio-social vacuum. Therefore, the word Allah that pre-dates Islam, a word that was and is a non Hebrew word for a pagan deity, the “Moon-god” of the pre Muhammad Arabs was Christianized and retained among the Middle Eastern Arab Christian converts finding its way in the Arabic Bible translation. Post Muhammad this same “Moon-god” is now appropriated and identified with the Islamic Quran by Muhammad. This contextualization of the Arabic word, Allah, in Bible translation, was followed in Asia and many parts of the world where there was a Muslim-Arabic religious influence. It was wrong then and it is wrong now…..

  20. mike samuel says:

    Being children of Adam and Eve we share a common humanity and that is all. We do our best to live in peace respecting other opinions and religious faiths. There is no need to fight for our faiths or take upon ourselves to violently defend our Faith like the Muslims are urged to do. Truth stands on its own and it needs no puny humans to defend it. Any religious faith whose god need to be defended by violence or blasphemy laws to hang those who question its veracity, proves it is bankrupt of truth. Compelling truth acts on its own and all its devotees need to do is preach, teach and reason with love to the ears of humanity. One cannot proclaim aloud that his god is great and then kill others who critique this ‘great god’ and his ‘prophet’ who is weak to defend his own name.
    We can only share with one another what our Faith is all about but no one must be compelled to believe by birth into a religion, by the law of a nation or by the threat of the sword. We can share-compare and leave it there amicably. But on earth we can enjoy each other’s company and in love be generous and charitable to one and all no matter our creed and race. We must love regardless and be the best of friends in our differences.
    “Charity (Love) never faileth:…For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity (love), these three; but the greatest of these is charity (love).” (1 Corinthians 13:8a,12,13). Of a TRUTH, I FULLY concur with the contents of the article above by Pst Brutus Balan. I could well understand the stance adopted by the papists (R. Catholics) who in fact consider Islam as a “sister” religion to Roman Catholicism; hence, in the true sense of the word, R.Catholicism and Islam WORSHIP the SAME god named “ALLAH”. It’s just that MAJORITY of them do NOT know it. The true Christian Elohim is NEVER the Muslim god ALLAH; but YAHWEH. Period. Agape Love.

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