08/08/2019, 15.43
MALAYSIA
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Arabic Islamic calligraphy also for Christians, but using the word "Allah" still banned

Some non-Muslim communities criticise addition of Khatt calligraphy in Malay language course. Protestant leader wonders why Christians cannot study Arabic Christian calligraphy. For the sixth time, court postpones the decision as to whether Christians can use the word "Allah". Radical Muslims consider the word of exclusive use in Islam.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Christians in Sabah and Sarawak, the two eastern states that make up Malaysian Borneo, face an odd situation. On the one hand, they do not yet know if they can continue to use the word "Allah" for God in their religious publications without "offending" Muslims whilst at school their children will be forced to learn Arabic Islamic calligraphy.

The Malaysian Education Ministry has decided to introduce, starting next year, Khatt calligraphy as part of the Year 4 Malay language (Bahasa Melayu) course.

The development of Islamic calligraphy is strongly linked to the Qurʼān whose chapters and verses are widely and universally known.

The government’s move has been met with protests from some groups, including Chinese and Tamils, who said it would not help vernacular school students improve their knowledge of Malay.

Christians too are very critical, especially after the latest episode in a long-standing legal dispute over the word “Allah”.

On Monday, the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak postponed its decision for the sixth time as to whether local Christians can use it in published texts to educate the members of their community.

Radical Muslims consider the word to be exclusive to Islam. However, a rare Latin-Malay dictionary from 1631 shows that the word "Allah" was used from early on as the name of God in the Bible in the local language.

“We are wondering why the government is hesitant to allow Christians in Sabah and Sarawak to use the word ‘Allah’, which means ‘God’ in Arabic, in religious publications but wants non-Muslims to learn Khatt calligraphy,” said Herman Shastri, general-secretary of the Council of Churches Malaysia.

For Shastri, if the government insists on including Khatt in the syllabus, Christian students should also be allowed to study Arabic Christian calligraphy.

“Christians in the Middle East have been using Bibles which were written in the Arabic language for many centuries,” he added. “We have many Bible verses, prayers and hymns written in Arabic calligraphy that adorn places of worship.”

The legal case concerning the use of "Allah" by Christians dates back to 2008, when the government threatened to revoke the publishing license of The Herald, Malaysia’s main Catholic paper.

At the time, the Church took the government to court for violating the constitutional right of religious freedom.

Since then the issue and the legal saga that followed have become a very sensitive topic in the country, one that can trigger acts of violence against Christian churches and places of worship, as well as seizures and desecrations of sacred books.

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