The leader of Malaysia’s Islamic opposition party says non-Muslims should be allowed to use the word “Allah” to refer to God, questioning a government ban that has been criticized by Christians as a blow to freedom of religion.
Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the influential spiritual leader of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, said that a verse in the Quran in which non-Muslims of Mecca call their God “Allah” supported his point.
Nik Aziz’s comments, made Sunday, were reported by the national news agency Bernama and the New Straits Times newspaper. His aide, Mohamad Saiba Yaacob, confirmed the comments to The Associated Press.
Nik Aziz’s views are an unexpected boost for Malaysia’s Christian minority, who have gone to court to challenge a 2007 order banning non-Muslims from translating God as “Allah” in their literature. The government says its use would confuse Muslims in this multiethnic, Muslim-majority country.
Christian groups say the ban is unconstitutional, arguing that the word “Allah” predates Islam and Muslims do not have an exclusive right to it.
The ban was aimed against the Malay-language edition of the main Roman Catholic newspaper in Malaysia, the Herald, which is read mostly by indigenous tribes who converted to Christianity decades ago. The Herald’s Mandarin, English and Tamil editions do not use the word “Allah.”
Earlier this month, the government issued an order allowing Christian publications to use “Allah” provided they print a statutory warning that it is for non-Muslims. But last week the government rescinded the order, saying it was a “mistake.”
It appeared the government had succumbed to pressure from Muslim scholars and groups that are more hard-line than the Islamic party headed by Nik Aziz.
Nik Aziz said he is only giving his opinion as a Muslim scholar, and will let the government decide whether to ban the word.
“I will not interfere in this,” he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times daily.
The government is unlikely to heed Nik Aziz’s opinion because he’s an arch political rival of the ruling coalition. Also, it is not clear how much influence he has among Muslims outside the four states where his party has done well in recent elections.
For many Christians, the ban symbolizes their eroding religious freedom under the Muslim-Malay dominated government, while for many Muslims, a lifting of the ban would be seen as a blow to Malay supremacy in the country.
Influential PAS leader says non-Muslims can use ‘Allah’