ICC Note: The recent re-election of the conservative Barisan Nasional party to power in Malaysia has left the Christian minority, which makes up about 9% of the population, deeply disappointed. In Malaysia minority religions are legally discriminated against and Prime Minister Najib Razak's election campaign even featured anti-church posters. The dispute over the use of the word Allah has also continued under the Prime Minsters government, with attempts to ban the use of the word by Malay Christians, who have been using it for hundreds of years to describe God, continuing as recently as last year.
6/28/2013 Malaysia (CIC) - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s conservative Barisan Nasional coalition was declared the winner in the nation’s 13th general election last month. But the victory margin was so thin, and allegations of election fraud so loud, that there is no sigh of relief yet for Najib, whose party used divisive issues during the campaigning period and is now likely to further deepen the country’s religious and ethnic divide in an attempt to gain legitimacy.
Najib’s coalition, whose campaign included banners against churches, managed to win – with 133 of the 222 parliamentary seats – but it was the worst-ever election performance of the party that has governed Malaysia since its independence from Britain in 1957.
Christians complained about billboards carrying pictures churches that were put up during the election campaign by Najib’s coalition and which asked the people in the Malay language: “Do we want to see our children and grandchildren pray in this Allah’s house? If we allow the use of the word Allah in churches, we sell our religion, race and nation....Vote Barisan Nasional because they can protect your religion, race and nation.”
What’s known as the “Allah issue” in Malaysia is extremely divisive, as it led to the torching of a church and several incidents of vandalism across the country in 2009 after the High Court ruled that a Catholic weekly, The Herald, was allowed to use the word “Allah” to refer to God. The court said the Arabic word was not exclusive to Islam.
The court ruling overturned the interior ministry’s ban on the use of the word “Allah.” The ministry had imposed the ban a year earlier, claiming it could cause confusion among Muslims. It also threatened to revoke the license of The Herald if it continued to use “Allah” in its Malay language edition – although the first Malay Bible also used the word about four centuries ago. The ministry ordered that all Bibles be marked with a “For Christian use only” stamp.
The government was quick to appeal the High Court verdict, as was expected. However, while little happened in the case for the last more than three years, the matter was rushed to the court days after Najib’s election victory last month. On May 23, seven Islamic groups were allowed to become parties in the appeal. It is being suspected that the government could be working to bring the issue back in the public discourse.