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Campaign against ´Allah´ ban launched

  • Malaysia
  • March 06 2009
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A signature campaign is now underway in Malaysia´s eastern-most state of Sabah to have the federal government review its ban on the use of the word Allah in Christian worship, songs and publications.

According to local media reports, senior politician Jeffrey Kitingan is leading the campaign by people calling themselves "Concerned Citizens of Sabah." The campaign, which started on March 4, will run until March 29.

Kitingan, who is a Catholic, said copies of a petition, "Appeal to Reconsider the Use of The Word Allah" will be distributed to selected community leaders in Sabah, and to all churches.

In addition, people of all religions are invited to sign the petition online at http://www.petitiononline.com/sabahan/petition.html. As of March 6, more than 800 people had already done so.

The online petition, addressed to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, states that "the word ´ALLAH´ has always been used by the Christians to refer to ´God´ in their publications and preaching without restrictions."

The petition is expected to be presented to the prime minister in April.

On Feb. 28, local media reported Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar saying his ministry earlier made a mistake in allowing the use of Allah in Christian publications. The ministry, on Feb. 16, issued an order that allowed Christians to use the Arabic word for God in their publications, so long as these specified that the publications were not for Muslims.

For the past few years, the Catholic weekly "Herald" has engaged in a dispute with the government on the use of Allah in its section printed in Bahasa Malaysia, the national language. The weekly has sections in four different languages.

The Home Ministry has maintained that Allah refers exclusively to the God of Islam. A judicial review challenging the ban is pending.

According to "Herald," at least 600,000 of Malaysia´s nearly 900,000 Catholics are from the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak, and they communicate mainly in Bahasa Malaysia.

The country presently has about 27.7 million people according to 2008 government estimates. Previous government figures have indicated that about 60 percent are Muslims, 19 percent are Buddhists, 9 percent are Christians and 6 percent are Hindus.

Media reports said Ronnie Klassen, a co-organizer of the signature campaign, expressed confidence the online petition would attract support from the Vatican and the international community.
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