The World Council of Churches (WCC) has expressed its support for an appeal against a Malaysian court’s decision in October 2013 forbidding the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims. This development, the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said, risks jeopardizing “fundamental values and the long history of multi-religious co-existence in Malaysia”.
The WCC general secretary shared these concerns in an official letter to Rev. Dr Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia and Archbishop John Ha Tiong Hock, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei on 27 February.
“Freedom of religion and belief for all, and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation between faith communities, are essential foundations for social cohesion,” Tveit said.
Tveit affirmed that Christians in majority Muslim countries all over the world – including in Malaysia itself, as well as in such neighbouring countries as Indonesia – have for centuries used the Arabic word “Allah” to refer to God, as noted in his earlier letter to the Malaysian churches in January 2010.
“Indeed, the shared use of this word by Muslims and Christians alike has served as an important bridge for inter-religious dialogue when speaking of the divine,” he said.
Tveit added that in the on-going dialogues between Christians and Muslims in which the WCC has been engaged, the use of the word “Allah” has never been contested.
The WCC general secretary expressed solidarity with the churches in Malaysia, when they address this issue and work to “restore the example of Malaysia’s multi-religious society”.
An application by the Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia for leave to appeal against the court’s decision is due to be heard on 5 March.
In his letter Tveit said to the churches, “I pray that the application and the arguments supporting it will find favour with the court, and that your efforts and on-going witness for justice and human dignity will help secure the common future of all Malaysians.”
WCC expresses solidarity with churches under attack in Malaysia (WCC news release of 13 January 2010)