Kuala Lumpur using Islam and Allah to bolster support and unity
For Fr Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, the dispute is a trick to promote unity and group identity. In order to overcome political and social divisions, a "seed of fear" is planted. A Muslim Lawyer and former minister says that an incompetent government is Islamising the country.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - The controversy over the word Allah is a question of "political expediency", a "non-issue" that has become a "national question" to bolster "unity" and group identity among ethnic Malays, this according to Fr Lawrence Andrew who spoke to AsiaNews about the ongoing dispute between the government and Malaysia's Catholics over the use of the word Allah for the Christian God.

The decision is now in the hands of the Court of Appeal, which will rule "in October or, at the latest, in early November," said Fr Lawrence, who is the editor of the Herald, a Malaysian Catholic weekly.

Meanwhile, critics have attacked the Malaysian government for increasingly failing to maintain public order, most notably a lawyer and former minister in the administration of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Malays are divided, Fr Lawrence noted, three-ways. Some government leaders, the priest explained, believe that the only way to rebuild unity is foster the "Muslim identity."

To achieve this goal, they are willing to create among Malays a feeling of "alienation in their own country" and a sense of vulnerability "to non-Muslims ", who are a minority.

For the editor of the Herald, the idea that "Christians are desecrating the name of Allah" was spread via propaganda, creating general "hatred and hostility towards Christians" among Muslims.

In view of this year's general election, it is clear "the government used the issue to win" at the polls, planting the seed of fear "in the hearts of rural Malays" that "Islam is in danger," Fr Lawrence said.

However, some prominent Muslims have come out criticising the government, like Datuk Zaid, a Ibrahim lawyer and former minister, who slammed the authorities for not settling the dispute peacefully.

In addition, he warned that a creeping Islamisation is underway in a country where religion and race overlap, and blamed the government for adopting "Arabic" leaning education policies.

"Before [the] ban, [the] word [Allah] was used for years without problem," Ibrahim wrote on tweeter. Indeed, other religions, he noted, have used the term Allah for God, but only Christians were dragged before the courts to prevent them from using it.

The controversy between the Catholics and the government over Allah as the name for the Christian God in media and publications, such as the Bible in the Malay language, goes back to 2008 and 2009 when the High Court ruled in the Catholics' favour.

This decision shocked and angered many Muslims, who believe the word to be the exclusive property of Islam.

A wave of violence followed in which churches and other places of worship came under attack.

In Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country in Southeast Asia of more than 28 million people, Christians are the third largest religious group (after Buddhists) with more than 2.6 million followers.

Recently, a 17th century Latin-Malay dictionary was reprinted showing that the word Allah was already in use at that time in the local language as the name for the Biblical God.