World Bulletin / News Desk
The Vatican's first envoy to Malaysia 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 row underlines growing intolerance in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious country following an election in May that deepened the divide between majority Muslim Malays and minority ethnic Chinese, many of whom are Christian.
Archbishop Joseph Marino was summoned to the foreign ministry on Tuesday after his comments last week on the issue.
"Archbishop Marino was advised to be mindful of the religious sensitivities of the host country and that the issue he commented on is still under the Court of Appeal," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Marino, who arrived in the country in April, apologised for any "misunderstandings and inconveniences" his comments may have caused, but some Muslim organisations have demanded a full retraction or the envoy's expulsion.
"The ambassador's comment has touched on the sensitivities of Muslims and should not have happened, more so in the (fasting) month of Ramadan," Hassan Ali, the head of JATI, an Islamic group, was quoted as saying by national news agency Bernama.
In his first media interview since starting his new role, Marino said last week he supported the arguments made by the Christian Federation of Malaysia on why Christians should be allowed to use Allah.
"In terms of how they presented the arguments in favour, it seems to be quite logical and acceptable," he said.
A Catholic newspaper, the Herald, successfully challenged the government's ban on the use of the word Allah by Christians in 2009. The government, which argued that the use of the Arabic word might offend the sensitivities of Muslims, is planning to appeal the High Court decision.
Scholars say Christians in Malaysia's two states on Borneo island have been using Allah to mean God for over 100 years, mainly as they use Indonesian translations of the Bible.
Muslims, who make up about 60 percent of Malaysia's 28 million population, see using the word Allah in Christian publications, including Bibles, as attempts to proselytise.
On Tuesday, the chief minister of Kedah state, Mukhriz Mahathir, said the state government would not allow the word Allah to be used by non-Muslims in their holy books.
"We cannot accept their excuses because hidden behind those excuses is the aim of turning Muslims into disbelievers of the religion," Bernama reported Mukhriz, a son of long-serving former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, as saying.
Christians, including about 800,000 Catholics, make up about 9.1 percent of Malaysia's population. Malays are by definition Muslims and are not allowed to convert.
Worldbulletin presents a photo essay of Muslims celebrating Eid ul Fitr around the world
Muslims gathered from across Saudi Arabia and the world to pray Taraweeh prayer on Ramadan’s 27th night
With the end of Ramadan approaching, shoppers in Ramadan hit the markets to do their food, clothing and gift shopping.
Knowing the correct time of the day for daily affairs is important and it is the inventions from Muslim scientists who have impacted current clock technologies.
Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, has begun and World Bulletin has put together pictures that showcases Muslims from across the Islam world during this sacred month.
In Addis Ababa, turnout at mosques was so high that main streets had to be closed to make way for worshippers
West Bank cities are being decorated to celebrate holy month of Ramadan with Ramallah lighting the biggest lantern for Ramadan
According to a report by Calico Mercato website, the amount will be used to develop mosques and Islamic centers in Florence province.
Quran prints that were written during the Prophet Muhammads lifetime are now on display at the Berlin State Library
The mosque was first opened in 1901 but was seized and closed in the 1920's and then used first as a cinema and then as a restaurant that served alcohol. In 2002 restorations began to open the mosque for service
It is no known secret of the tremendous contribution of Muslim scientists to the world of astronomy. Amongst them is the astronomical table including data that was first set up by Arab astronomer Ibn al-Shatir that is almost 700 years old. Ibrahim Muteferrika, a Hungarian priest who converted to Islam was the first to bring the printing press to the Ottoman Empire as well Ibrahim Tiflisi providing detailed descriptions of a solar eclipse.
Local Muslim community in Belgium calls for recruiting chaplains who can educate youth about religion.
Australian Muslim TV studio, Islam TV, aims to counter media 'bias'. Aims to offer opposition to what it sees as negative representations of Islam in country's mainstream media.
Growing up in a large lower middle-class family on his father’s teaching salary, Makbul Patel said he learned early the value of a dollar. In his private practice, he saw that people were in need and wanted to help them, saying that this project is something that is close to his heart