Christians Banned From Using Word 'Allah' in Arabic by New Fatwa in Malaysia

A Malaysian Sultan has issued a fatwa prohibiting non-Muslims from using the word "Allah" in Arabic.

The Sultan of the Malaysian state of Selangor, Sharafuddin Idris Shah, issued the prohibition on Tuesday, according to the Lebanon Debate newspaper.

Malaysian media have reported that the prohibition has been put in place by the Islamic leader because it is a "sacred word," and should be reserved exclusively for Muslims.

The sultan has ordered the Islamic Council of Selangor and the Islamic Affairs Department in the state to take strict action against all groups that question the fatwa and the 1988 Ordinance, which prohibits the use of the word "Allah" in Arabic [by non-Muslims].

The organization representing Protestant churches in Malaysia commented on the decision by saying that Christians in the country have been using the word "Allah" when referring to God for centuries, and they plan to continue to exercise their constitutional right.

Lawyers from a related "Allah" case in 2009, in which a Christian woman challenged the government's confiscation of her religious CDs as they had "Allah" written on them, said that the fatwa goes against the court's decision in that 2009 case.

It also highlights another similar case that ruled Christians would be allowed to import and use bibles in any language.

However, according to MidEast Christian News, that court decision was "followed by a wave of religious violence that swept the country."

The dominant religion in Malaysia is Islam, whose followers make up 61.4 percent of the population, according to the Population and Housing Census of 2010.

Islam is recognized as the state religion of Malaysia, although the country has a secular constitution.

The country has often seen politics become entwined with religion, leading numerous debates to take place on whether Malaysia should be an Islamic or secular state.

According to the 2010 Census, the religious make-up of Malaysia is: 61.4% Islam, 17.8% Buddhism, 9.2% Christian, 6.3% Hinduism, and just over 3% other. Only 0.7% of the population confess to having no religious following.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the country's constitution, however, in practice it faces many restrictions. For example, a Malay must be a Muslim. Although non-Malays are more free to practice various faiths, however, if a non-Malay has converted to Islam they technically are prohibited from leaving the faith.

In addition, children born to Muslim parents are considered Muslim, and are prohibited from converting.

If a Muslim does attempt to convert to other religions, they can face punishment by state governments, with punishments reportedly including fines and/or imprisonment.