Malaysian authorities have the situation in their country "under control" following days of unrest this month after the high court ruled that a Catholic newspaper could use the word "Allah" to refer to God, the country's prime minister said. In an interview on Monday, Najib Tun Razak told The National that there was no longer any "undue tension" in Malaysia after 11 churches around the country were attacked over a number of days, with the most recent incident occurring on Saturday. A gurudwara, or Sikh place of worship, a mosque and the offices of the lawyers representing the Catholic newspaper, The Herald, were also attacked.
Mr Najib, who has strongly condemned the church attacks, said the violence had been carried out by a small number of people who were "not well informed" and that his government was engaging in dialogue with churches and Christian groups in order to assuage their fears. "We have made a very strong appeal to all Malaysians not to take matters into their own hands," he said. "We fully value the harmonious relationships that have existed [in Malaysia] for such a long time and it is a fact that the vast majority of Malaysians, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, value peace and harmony."
On January 9 Mr Najib visited a church in Kuala Lumpur that was torched in one of the attacks and donated 500,000 Malaysian Ringgit (Dh550,000) towards its repair. The furore erupted on December 31 when the high court overturned a three-year-old home ministry ban on non-Muslim publications using the word Allah to refer to God, ruling on a case filed in 2007 by The Herald. The presiding judge found that the ban was unconstitutional and said the word was not exclusive to Islam.
A week later, however, the court suspended its ruling pending an appeal by the home ministry. Mr Najib said the matter was now in the hands of the courts and he would not be drawn on what he believed the outcome might, or should, be. The prime minister did, however, say that he believed the reason that Malaysian Muslims were upset over Christian usage of the word Allah was a matter of "theological definition".
"As far as Muslims are concerned, because of the concept of Trinity [in Christianity], they cannot accept anyone else using the word Allah, because Allah is not divisible," he said, referring to the Christian representation of God as the unification of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. When asked why the problem over non-Muslims using the word Allah seemed to be limited to Malaysia, in contrast to other Muslim countries in the Middle East, for example, Mr Najib said he was unsure. "It is sensitive to the Muslims in Malaysia, that's all," he said.
The word Allah is commonly used by Malaysian Christians, who make up about nine per cent of the country's 28 million people. Muslims account for 60 per cent of the population, while the remainder are mostly Buddhists or Hindus. On such Middle East issues as the reconstruction of Iraq and the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr Najib said Malaysia did not have a major role to play. He noted that Malaysia, which is a member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, had provided humanitarian help to the region "in quite a big way", especially to the Palestinians, but added that "only the powers that be can intercede and solve the problems here".
Mr Najib was on a three-day visit to the UAE to strengthen political and economic ties and addressed the World Future Energy summit in Abu Dhabi on Monday. He left for a five-day state visit to India yesterday. email@example.com