Christian leaders on Wednesday condemned a billboard election campaign by the ruling party, Barisan Nasional, which they say depicts churches as usurping the authority and name of Allah, and which could be seen as a license for violence against them.
Reverend Eu Hong Seng, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, said the billboard campaign conveyed a “despicable and heinous” anti-Christian message that could threaten churches over their use of the term Allah for God.
He said the threat was a real one given recent church burnings and threats to burn copies of the Bahasa Malaysia language bible.
The billboard depicts two churches described as “Rumah Allah”, or house of Allah, and asks if voters want their children and grandchildren to pray in such houses.
A caption underneath the photos reads: “If we allow the Allah word used in churches, we sell our religion, race and nation….”
It adds: “Vote Barisan Nasional because they can protect your religion, race and nation.”
Malaysian voters will go to the polls for the 13th general election on Sunday, with the race essentially neck and neck between Barisan Nasional and the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
Both sides are vying fiercely for the Muslim vote, with Muslim Malays constituting 60 percent of the population. An opposition victory would see the first non-Barisan Nasional administration since independence 56 years ago.
The ruling party lost its two-thirds majority in general elections in 2008, and since that time has maintained a stricter Islamic agenda to secure a greater portion of Muslim votes.
A rallying point has been the use of the world Allah, the Arabic word for God, in bibles published in the Bahasa Malaysia language.
It has struggled to ban the word’s use by Christians, even though Christians in what is now Malaysia have used the word since the first Al Kitab, the Malay language bible, was published more than 400 years ago.
Prime Minister Najib Razak recently defended the ban on the term Allah in an interview with Al Jazeera.
“The concept of Allah is different in the Muslim sense than in the Christian sense. We should not upset the Muslims and Muslims should not upset the Christians. We have lived in harmony for years and it should continue,” he said in the interview.
The opposition party has not taken a similarly hard line with Christians. De facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has repeatedly assured Christians that they would be able to continue using the word Allah in their Malay language publications.