CAIRO - A royal decree by the Sultan of the Malaysian state of Selangor to ban non-Muslims from using the word Allah has inflamed an already heightened controversy in the Asian Muslim country.
ÂWe non-Muslims have our own heads, Bishop Paul Tan, who heads the Johor and Malacca diocese, told Free Malaysia Today on Thursday, January 10.
Besides, our country is a constitutional or parliamentary democracy not a theocratic state, he said.
Our Federal Constitution protects the rights of all our people, not only Muslims.
The Selangor Sultan, who is head of religion in the state, issued Tuesday a decree banning non-Muslims from using the word Allah.
Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah made a decision and decreed that the word Allah' is a sacred word specific to Muslims and it is prohibited to be used by any non-Muslim in Selangor,the Islamic Affairs Council of the Selangor said.
He vowed a stern action against those questioning a fatwa banning the use of Allah by non-Muslims.
The use of the word Allah in Christian publications in the local Malay language has been a controversial issue in Malaysia.
The Malaysian government has banned Catholic from using the word in Christian publications.
But the debate reignited again last month when Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general Lim Guan Eng called for allowing Christians to use the word Allah in Malay-language bibles.
But the call has sparked uproar among Malaysian Muslims, with the country's main Islamic party PAS calling for not allowing Christians to use the word Allah.
Religion and language are sensitive issues in multiracial Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.
Christians say that the use of Allah is not only exclusive for Muslims.
In all countries, except Malaysia, including Arab countries and Indonesia, there is no ban on Christians using the word Allah', Tan said.
If the Malaysian government forbids people of faiths other than those who profess Islam from using the word Allah', we would be the laughing stock of more enlightened people in other countries.
Churches across the Muslim country have vowed to continue using the word Allah despite the decree.
"Malaysian Christians have been using the word 'Allah' in our Bahasa Malaysia bibles and in our faith to signify the Almighty God, and we will continue to do so," Ng Moon Hing, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, which represents the mainstream Protestant churches, said.
The Council of Churches of Malaysia also said many indigenous communities use "Allah" daily.
"We shall continue this practice... and call on all parties to respect this fundamental right," it said.
Usually dubbed the "melting pot" of Asia for its potpourri of cultures, Malaysia has long been held up as a model of peaceful co-existence among its races and religions.
Malaysia has a population of nearly 26 millions, with Malays, mostly Muslims, making up nearly 60 percent.
Christians, including a Catholic population of nearly 800,000, make up around 9.1 percent of the population.Buddhists and Hindus constitute 19.2 and 6.3 percent of the population respectively.