Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - A group of Christians in Sabah has launched a petition drive to force the government to lift its ban on the use of the word "Allah," which according to the interior ministry should be used only by Muslims.
The campaign was launched last March 4, and will continue until March 29. In a few days, the website has gathered thousands of signatures, including from local Muslims and Hindus. In April, the signatures that have been collected via the internet and on paper will be presented to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
The author of the campaign is Jeffrey Kitingan, brother of the deputy prime minister of Sabah, Joseph Pairin Kitingan. Sabah and Sarawak, the Malaysian provinces on the island of Borneo, are the area with the largest concentration of Catholics. Out of 900,000 faithful in all of Malaysia, at least 600,000 live in Sabah and Sarawak.
Ronnie Klassen, a businessman and one of the other organizers of the campaign, says that he hopes the online version will bring support from the international community and from the Vatican. This, he says, is "an issue that is very dear to all Christians as it is to members of the two other Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Islam."
Anyone can sign the petition by going to this address: www.PetitionOnline.com/sabahan/petition.html.
The problem emerged at least two years ago, when the security ministry banned the use of the word "Allah" (God) in the Malay language insert in the Catholic weekly "Herald," citing "reasons of security" and of "possible confusion" among Muslims, which "could harm public order." The Catholic Church has used the word "Allah" to refer to God for centuries.
The ban also applies to publications, songs, and ceremonies in all other Christian Churches. There is confusion in the government, and subservience toward groups of Muslim voters. The security ministry recently revisited and reconfirmed its decision against the "Herald." In the same way, the interior ministry last February 16 gave permission to use the word "Allah," as long as it is clearly displayed that the publication is "for Christians only." But at the end of February, it backtracked on the permission and reaffirmed the ban, threatening to take measures.
The archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur has taken the government to court, insisting that the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. The first hearing in the case was held last February 27, and was adjourned until May 28.
Referring to the recent events, Klassen says: "We feel hurt, insulted and ridiculed by a government that only believes in its righteousness."