Malaysian Christians have expressed deep disappointment and regret over the comment made by a local government minister regarding the prohibition of non-Muslims from using the word "Allah."
In a statement to the media, Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing, the head of the Malaysian Christian Federation, reiterated the fact that the term "Allah" was used by Arab Christians before the founding of Islam and said the ban was contravening the right to the freedom of religion as outlined in the constitution.
"The word 'Allah' is a pre-Islamic word used by Arab Christians before Islam came into being," Ing stated.
"We maintain and we have always told the government that we have the right to use the word 'Allah' whether in our Bahasa Malaysia publications or otherwise."
The battle over the use of "Allah" started when the Malaysian government threatened to revoke a local Catholic tabloid's permit to publish . In response, The Herald, the weekly newspaper of the Catholic Church in Malaysia, filed a lawsuit last month against the government, claiming that the ban is unconstitutional and violates freedom of religion.
Not long after the Herald filed its suit, the government back-tracked, stating in a fax to the Herald's editor that the newspaper will get its 2008 permit with no conditions attached, according to the British Broadcasting Corp.
The government's position appeared to change again, however, when the de-facto minister for Islamic affairs, Abdullah Zin, told reporters that cabinet agreed the term should only be used by Muslims.
Zin said the cabinet is of the view that "Allah" refers to the Muslim God and can only be used by Muslims, who comprise about 60 percent of Malaysia's population.
Earlier this month, Zin had explained that the use of the word "Allah" by other religions "may arouse sensitivity and create confusion among Muslims."