Skip to main content

Christian churches in Borneo vow to continue using the word 'Allah'

By Peter Shadbolt, CNN
October 15, 2013 -- Updated 0622 GMT (1422 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Churches in Sabah and Sarawak have vowed to continue to use the word "Allah"
  • Church leaders have said they would defy a Malaysian court ruling this week
  • Court ruled a Roman Catholic newspaper could not refer to the Christian God as "Allah"
  • Christians in Malaysia argue that they have used the term for centuries

(CNN) -- Churches in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo have vowed to continue to use the word "Allah" in defiance of a Malaysian court ruling this week that ruled that the word could not be used by a Roman Catholic newspaper to refer to the Christian God.

Christians in Malaysia use the term interchangeably to refer to the Christian and Muslim God, but now a Christian newspaper published in the capital Kuala Lumpur has been told to stop doing so.

The Archbishop of the Anglican Church in South East Asia Datuk Bolly Lapok described the decision as "excessive, utterly irresponsible and grossly demeaning, to say the least.

"In the meantime, Christians in Sabah and Sarawak continue to reverently worship their Allah until the Kingdom comes," Rev. Lapok said in a statement reported in Malaysian media. "What are you going to do about it?"

He said in an earlier statement the decision struck at the constitutional basis of the Malaysian Federation. The Malaysian constitution guarantees freedom of religion while making Islam the state religion.

Malaysians worry about election fraud

"We find it completely unacceptable that what are common practices of the Church of Sabah and Sarawak for hundreds of years, and indeed for generations of Christians even before the very idea of Malaysia was conceived, are now proscribed by administrative orders and laws," Rev. Lapok said.

President of the Sabah Council of Churches, Datuk Thomas Tsen, said churches in the state would continue to use the word "Allah" in their church services, publications and prayers.

"We have made a very clear stand and we will stick to it," he said. "We have purged our hearts and minds on whatever decision the court would make. Even if the court decides against us using the word, we will continue to use it."

The unanimous decision by three Muslim judges sitting in Malaysia's appeals court on Monday overturns a 2009 decision from a lower court that permitted The Herald to use the word Allah.

"The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity," chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali said in the court ruling. "The usage of the world will cause confusion in the community."

The Herald editor Rev. Lawrence Andrew said he was "disappointed and dismayed," and would appeal against the decision.

"It is a retrograde step in the development of law in relation to the fundamental liberty of religious minorities," he said.

The decision comes amid escalating ethnic and religious tension in Malaysia following a bruising election campaign in May in which the ruling coalition -- which has been in power since federation in 1963 -- found its support among urban voters crumbling.

Even if the court decides against us using the word, we will continue to use it
Datuk Thomas Tsen

Prime Minister Najib Razak has attempted to shore up his support among majority ethnic Muslim Malays, by toughening security laws and boosting Malaysia's controversial policy of bumiputra -- a Malay term that literally means "son of the soil" -- which favors the ethnic Malay majority, providing them with preference in employment, business, education and housing.

While proponents say the radical affirmative action campaign -- instituted in the early 1970s in response to anti-Chinese riots in Malaysia in 1969 -- has lifted many urban Malays into the middle class, critics say that Chinese, Indian and the indigenous Orang Asli have been excluded from the political process.

While problems with bumiputra were among the election issues in May, allegations of government cronyism and nepotism are now high on the list of voter concerns. Razak's latest steps to reverse liberal reforms -- known as "reformasi" -- has hit educated young Malaysians in their 20s and 30s who have been leaving the country to take up opportunities overseas.

The brain drain is now a serious problem for the coalition government which has embarked on economic reforms, but is accused of doing little to reform the public service or education.

According to Malaysia's Population and Housing Census from 2010, 61.3% of Malays practice Islam, while 9.2% are Christians.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 27, 2014 -- Updated 1521 GMT (2321 HKT)
The first human trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine has produced promising results, U.S. scientists said.
November 27, 2014 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teen in August abandoned home after address made public.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 2236 GMT (0636 HKT)
HBO -- backing a documentary based on "Going Clear," a book about Scientology and Hollywood -- isn't taking any chances with legal side.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1935 GMT (0335 HKT)
Grandmaster Nguyen Van Chieu has devoted his adult life to spreading the word about Vietnames martial art, Vovinam.
November 28, 2014 -- Updated 1847 GMT (0247 HKT)
England cricketer Nick Compton shares insight into "drive and courage" it takes to face fears as top batsman.
November 27, 2014 -- Updated 0059 GMT (0859 HKT)
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson says he was just doing his "job right" when he shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0118 GMT (0918 HKT)
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
Stunning stations where your first priority won't be finding the nearest exit.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 2318 GMT (0718 HKT)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says women's "nature is different," sparking fury.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 1043 GMT (1843 HKT)
A 30-year-old woman has been charged with attempting to kill a baby police say spent five days down a drain before being discovered by cyclists.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
Where do hip young things hang out in Taiwan?
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
November 28, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT