World Council of Churches supports Malaysia Catholic appeal on use of 'Allah'

(Photo: REUTERS / Bazuki Muhammad)Muslim activists walk to the Vatican embassy in to hand in a statement in protest of Archbishop Joseph Marino, the Vatican's first envoy to Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur July 19, 2013. Marino has opened a storm of controversy by apparently supporting the use of the word "Allah" by Christians, prompting a rebuke from the government and condemnation from nationalist Malay groups in the majority-Muslim country.

The World Council of Churches 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. Olav Fykse Tveit said, risks jeopardizing "fundamental values and the long history of multi-religious co-existence in Malaysia."

Hundreds of Muslims protesed outside Malaysia's highest court on Wednesday as it delayed a decision on whether to hear the Roman Catholic Church's bid to be allowed to call God "Allah," the AFP news agency reported.

Tveit shared these concerns in an official letter on Monday to Rev. 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.

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An application by the Catholic Church in Malaysia for leave to appeal against the court's decision was due to be heard on March 5.

A seven-judge panel in the administrative capital Putrajaya on Wednesday postponed its decision to consideri allowing a full hearing of the case, or whether to deem that the ruling of the lower court is valid.

It gave no date for the decision after hearing arguments from both sides

"Freedom of religion and belief for all, and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation between faith communities, are essential foundations for social cohesion," Tveit said.

The WCC leader 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.

He had noted this point in an earlier letter to the Malaysian churches in January 2010 by the WCC which represents more than 500 million Christians from mainly Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant traditions from all around the world.

"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 said 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 gave his full support to the churches in Malaysia, when they address this issue and work to "restore the example of Malaysia's multi-religious society."

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