Papal nuncio to Malaysia in row over use of Allah

The new papal nuncio to Malaysia has landed in the midst of an intense row over whether Christians in the country should be allowed to use the word “Allah” to refer to God.

Archbishop Joseph Marino, the first nuncio appointed to the Muslim-majority nation, said during a press conference that he supported the arguments in a fact sheet put out by the Christian Federation of Malaysia on why Christians should be allowed to use “Allah”.

This drew an immediate reaction from conservative Muslim groups, which demanded he withdraw the statement or they would ask the government to close the nunciature and tell Archbishop Marino to leave the country.

Muslims (61 per cent of the population) and Christians (9 per cent) have largely lived in harmony in Malaysia, but the Allah issue has raised tensions.

In 2008 a government order banned the weekly Catholic Herald from using Allah as a translation for God in its Malay-language section.

Archbishop Murphy Pakiam sued the government and a court overturned the ban — a decision that shocked Muslims and led to religious strife, with churches throughout the country coming under attack.

The government appealed to the High Court, and the Catholic Church has filed an application to strike out the appeal.

The Church’s argument will recall that in 2011, just before the Sarawak state elections — and apparently with an eye to the Christian vote in that state, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak issued a statement allowing Catholics to import Malay-language Bibles using Allah for God.

Archbishop Marino is no stranger to living in a Muslim majority country. Prior to being posted to Malaysia, he was the papal nuncio in Bangladesh for five years.

“The first thing I came to learn was the beauty of Islam, and it is indeed a religion of peace and harmony,” he said. “Its spiritual components of seeking God are profound. That was the joy that I have, if I may say, with my deep contact with Islam in a country that is predominantly Muslim.”


Wall Street Journal

Malaysian Insider

Image: Malaysia Today

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