Christians in Sabah and Sarawak should be allowed to use the word “Allah” because it has been part of their custom for decades, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said.

Similarly, they must respect the sensitivities of those in the peninsula, who are uncomfortable with the use of the word by non-Muslims, and not use the word here, he said.

“I have been to a church in Sabah and I know that the Kadazans and Ibans refer to God as Allah. The Muslims there are used to it. That is their custom, let it be.

“But when they are in semenanjung (peninsular Malaysia), then they must respect our custom here, which means that you cannot use the word ‘Allah’, because people here cannot accept it,” he said, referring to the growing number of people from Sabah and Sarawak who have moved to the peninsula.

Nazri, who was voicing his personal opinion over the “Allah” issue, noted that Sabahans and Sarawakians could still conduct Mass and give sermons in Bahasa Malaysia but should not use the word “Allah” while in the peninsula.

“We must respect each other. When I go to east Malaysia, I have to respect their customs. So when they come here, they also have to listen. That is only fair,” he said, adding that copies of the Bible containing the word “Allah” needed to be changed when used in the peninsula.

The same, he said, should apply to the peninsula orang asli. “They have to use Bibles in English or their mother tongue.

“It is all right to hold Mass in Bahasa Malaysia but do not use the word ‘Allah’. They must use Tuhan as in the national language,” he said in an interview.

Although he agreed that the word “Allah” had been long used in Christianity way before Islam existed, Nazri said: “That’s why I say it is all right in Sabah and Sarawak but culturally, you cannot apply it in a place where Allah has always been Islam’s God.”

Asked about the publication of the Herald, Nazri said there could always be separate editions for the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak. “It’s all man-made. It’s not carved in stone.”

On whether it was all right for the Bible to be translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Nazri said there were no laws to stop people from doing so.

“I don’t think it is wrong, legally or constitutionally.”

Nazri said the “Allah” matter had to be looked at from the legal and theological aspects and the customs and cultures of the people, before a wise conclusion could be made.

He also noted that states with the Sultan as the head of state and religion already had enactments barring or banning the use of words such as “Allah”, “Kaabah”, “baitulal”, and “solat” by other religions.

In Penang, Malacca, Federal Territories, Sabah and Sarawak, the word “Allah” could be used, legally speaking, but then the Government could still impose a ban under the Printing Presses and Publications Act, he said.