Lifestyle & Belief

Malaysia: much ado over "Allah" bibles


A Malay Christian prays on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur on November 20, 2012.



There are signs that influential Muslim leaders in Malaysia are finally coming to terms with a long-standing gripe against Christians.

The dispute? To some Muslims' dismay, Malay Christians also prefer to use the word "Allah" when describing their god.

Given Islam's deep influence on the Malaysian peninsula and the Malay language, many Christians see "Allah" as the go-to word for their maker. Some Muslims, however, feel the word should be reserved exclusively for their God.

This is no gentle debate over semantics. Just two years ago, authorities blocked the import of "Allah" bibles and relented only after customs officials adhered stickers reading "FOR CHRISTIANS" to every cover. And in 2010, when courts ruled in the Christians' favor, irate Muslims torched several churches.

But, as the Malaysian Insider reports, even one of Malaysia's most conservative religious parties -- the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party -- is acknowledging that Christians are within their rights to use the word "Allah." A spokesman with the fundamentalist party had urged Christians to forego "Allah" in a Christmas statement but was overruled by the party's leader who, according to the Insider, quickly cleared up the party's official stance.

There are plenty of Islamic fundamentalists in Malaysia who will never grow comfortable with non-Muslims using "Allah."

But an agreement to share the word by one of the nation's bastions of fundamentalism suggests that, just maybe, Malaysians can overcome this semantics quarrel that has drawn out for far too long.