Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - Malaysian Catholics are not alone in their battle for the use of the word "Allah" to describe the Christian God, which even ended up in court with mixed success. They can count on the support of a group of Muslim non-governmental organizations. The objective of the recently launched initiative is to sensitize the local Malay population, about the fact that the word - and its use - existed before the rise of Islam; and thus is not the exclusive preserve of the Muslim majority in the Asian country.
Realities such as Sisters in Islam (SIS) and the Front for Islamic revival (IRF) have launched initiatives on social networks to promote accurate information removed from the ideology and propaganda of the government and extremist movements.
The campaign of moderate Muslim groups comes at a critical juncture in the history of the Christian community in Malaysia, which has long been a victim of targeted attacks that have even led to the burning of churches, the desecration of Christian graves and the seizure of 300 Bibles in January.
The violence was motivated by was the use of the word "Allah" to describe the Christian God, in a long-standing legal battle between the government in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the Catholic weekly Herald - on June 23 last the High Court dismissed the Christians appeal - and it has now become a national controversy.
Suri Kempe, SIS program manager, told The Malaysian Insider that "there has been an outcry against the Federal Court decision" on the question of the use of Allah. The movement has also used the Internet and social networks "as a platform for discussion," an essential element "for the people, so that they can understand the problem" and "form their own opinion" on the matter.
This is echoed by Ahmad Farouk Musa, IRF chief, for whom the Muslim movements support for the right of the Church to use the word "Allah" is an uphill struggle. The majority of Malaysian Muslims, he adds, have received a literal and rigid teaching of Islam since their youth, without any effort to promote an intellectual interpretation or exegesis of the text.
In general, the view of religion among Malaysians, says the moderate Muslim leader, is "orthodox and conventional", they do not want to understand that the text "must be adapted to the 21st century." The moderate groups have organized forums and roundtables to facilitate a discussion, but the success of these meetings is "limited" and their impact "limited to advanced urban realities". "But the challenge - said Ahmad Farouk Musa - is to educate the masses".
In Malaysia, a nation of more than 28 million people, mostly Muslims (60 per cent), Christians are the third largest religious group (after Buddhists) with more than 2.6 million members. A Latin-Malay dictionary published 400 years ago shows that the word Allah was already in use to describe the Biblical God in the local language. Out of a population of over 11 million people, there are over 180 thousand Catholics in Kuala Lumpur, with 55 priests, 154 religious, and only one permanent deacon.