PUTRAJAYA, July 16 – Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin called today for an end to the uproar surrounding Archbishop Joseph Marino’s remarks on the “Allah” controversy after the papal ambassador issued an apology this evening.
According to the Vatican embassy here, Marino told Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman in a meeting earlier today that he did not mean to intrude into Malaysia’s internal affairs and apologised for the “misunderstandings” that ensued.
“Let that be the end of the matter,” Khairy told reporters at a buka puasa (breaking of fast) function here today.
“On behalf of Umno Youth, we welcome the move and I believe that we can close the case,” he added.
Khairy, who is also the youth and sports minister, expressed hope that everyone would allow the Court of Appeal to decide on the tussle between Christians and Muslims over the word “Allah”.
“We hope that this will be a lesson to all representatives and ambassadors that on sensitive issues, or on all national matters, we hope they will not issue any statement that can be perceived as an attempt of interference,” he said.
Earlier today, Sabah MP Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin urged the government to expel Marino from the country, claiming that the Vatican’s first ambassador to Malaysia had interfered in the “Allah” dispute here.
Last week, Minister in charge of Islamic affairs Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom accused the Apostolic Nuncio of causing anxiety and threatening national unity.
Before his meeting with Marino today, Anifah had issued a strongly-worded statement last Sunday over the alleged meddling into the “Allah” controversy, which he deemed to be Malaysia’s internal affairs.
In his first media interview here last Thursday, Marino observed that the “Allah” storm that has been raging here for the past five years was unique to this Southeast Asian nation due to the widespread use of the Malay language, the lingua franca of Malaysia’s Bumiputera Christians.
He indicated that the local churches have presented a “logical and acceptable” argument to counter the allegations by some hardline Muslims here that “Allah”, a word of Middle Eastern origin, was exclusive to Islam.
“But the document that they produce seems to be very well-presented in terms of explaining why Christians use this word,” the Apostolic Nuncio said, referring to the Christian Federation of Malaysia’s (CFM) fact sheet on “Allah” released a couple of months ago.
But Marino stressed that the ongoing appeal by the Home Ministry to reverse a 2009 High Court judgment, which upheld the Catholic Church’s right to refer to God as Allah, was an “internal matter”.
Marino’s comments later led to calls from far-right Muslim and Malay rights groups for his censure and even expulsion from Malaysia.
Malaysia’s Catholic Church filed an application last week to strike out the Home Ministry’s appeal against the contentious High Court ruling.
The High Court had caused an uproar when it ruled in 2009 that the word “Allah” did not belong exclusively to the Muslims, and that the Catholic Church’s newspaper, Herald, could publish the Arabic word in its Bahasa Malaysia section that caters to its Bumiputera congregation.
The “Allah” row erupted in 2008 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the Herald’s newspaper permit, prompting the Catholic Church to sue the government for violating its constitutional rights.
Muslims are the country’s dominant religious group and represent over 60 per cent of Malaysia’s population of 28 million, while Christians make up about nine per cent.
A 2010 census puts Christians as Malaysia’s third-largest religious group at 2.6 million people, with slightly over one million of them being Catholics. About 64 per cent of the Christians here are Bumiputera and Malay-speaking.