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Asia

2011-01-18

ASIA/MALAYSIA - An ancient Latin-Malay Dictionary is the litmus test to allow Christians to use the word “Allah”

Kuala Lumpur (Agenzia Fides) – An ancient Latin-Malay Dictionary, edited by the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith in 1631, represents for the Catholic Church in Malaysia “the litmus test” in the question of the use of the term “Allah” for Christians”, explains Father Lawrence Andrew in an interview with Fides. Father Andrew is a priest in Kuala Lumpur and Director of the Herald Weekly, the Catholic weekly in the diocese of Kuala Lumpur which, just one year ago, was at the centre of a legal battle over the use of the word Allah to refer to God in worship, in the Liturgy and in Christian publications (see Fides 12/1/2010).
The weekly publication and the Church in Malaysia began a legal battle in front of the High Court after the pronouncement by the Malaysian Government that Malaysian Christians were prohibited from using the term “Allah” to refer to their God. Allah, said the decree, must remain the prerogative of the Muslim faithful so as not to create confusion. On the other hand, the Christians argued that the use was ingrained centuries ago and had never generated conflicts. The High Court ruled in favour of the Church and the verdict issued in January 2010 set off a wave of violence against Christian Churches across the country by radical Muslims (see Fides 16/1/2010).
The Malaysian Government nevertheless filed an appeal and the sentence was suspended: at present, therefore, “we cannot use the word Allah. We wait patiently, but it seems that the new process will take a long time,” notes Father Andrew.
In this situation, the priest sees as a “Godsend from Heaven”, the new publication of the “Dictionarium Malaico-Latin et Latin Malaico”, which came about after a painstaking 11 years of historical research and editing, thanks to the backing and interest of Archbishop Luigi Bressan of Trento, who was the Apostolic Delegate to Malaysia from 1993 to 1999. The precious original copy of the Dictionary is now in the library of the Pontifical Urban University. In the new, modern edition, Archbishop Bressan wrote a preface to the Dictionary, which is “a historical text and incontrovertible evidence that centuries ago the missionaries worked for cultural and language exchange, and that the Christian community in Malaysia already used the term Allah in 1600,” said Fr Andrew. “We submit this latest, new evidence to the court, noting that it is historical heritage acquired for the Malay Christian communities,” he adds.
The Government and some Muslim groups, the priest explains to Fides, would like to put aside the issue on a theological level, but “for us there remains the problem of a linguistic nature and and we want to stay in this area.”
At this time, concludes Fr Andrew, “We continue in our peaceful campaign, accompanying this process with prayer, because it gives us the right to pray and turn to God with the name that we have always used, which our fathers have used, and which has never created any problem.” (PA) (Agenzia Fides 18/1/2011)

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