KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today hardened his position on the “Allah” row, joining others in insisting that only followers of Islam have the right to use the Arabic word for God.
Echoing a recent call by Kedah Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzan Shah for the word to be reserved for Muslims, the former prime minister also reiterated his previous stand that Christians in the peninsula do not use “Allah”.
“I am of the view that the word ‘Allah’ is the right of Muslims, not non-Muslims,” he told reporters here at a news conference.
The nation’s longest-serving prime minister also conceded that the issue had existed even during his administration, but said that it was resolved without conflict then.
“Back then we found a solution, there was no problem. So why now?” he said.
Dr Mahathir added that authorities must ensure that Malay-language bibles were restricted to Sabah and Sarawak, did not fall into Muslim hands here.
The former prime minister previously said it would not “hurt” for Christians to abandon their claim over the Arabic word.
Temperatures have risen of late over the so-called “Allah” row that remains unresolved four years after it shocked the nation and led to the worst religious strife in the country’s history.
The ongoing legal dispute between the government and the Catholic Church on the latter’s right to print the word “Allah” in its weekly Herald lies pending at the Federal Court, where a hearing for the Catholic Church’s leave for appeal is fixed on March 5.
Religious tensions deepened when shortly after the October court verdict, the Selangor Sultan issued a decree last November prohibiting non-Muslims from referring to God as “Allah”, citing a 1988 state law that bans such usage.
On January 3, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) moved to enforce the ban and raided the office of a bible distributor before carting off with over 300 Malay and Iban language bibles that contain the word “Allah”.
Christians make up close to 10 per cent of the Malaysian population, or 2.6 million. Almost two-thirds of them are Bumiputera and are largely based in Sabah and Sarawak, where they routinely use Bahasa Malaysia and indigenous languages in their religious practices, including describing God as “Allah” in their prayers and holy book.