BANGKOK, Thailand (RNS) The Vatican’s first envoy to Muslim-majority Malaysia should quit and go back to Rome, angry Malaysian Islamists said after the Roman Catholic cleric said Christians may use the Arabic word “Allah” to describe God.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Joseph S. Marino as the first resident apostolic nuncio to Malaysia. Archbishop Marino, a native of Alabama, previously served as the apostolic nuncio in Bangladesh. He is pictured during his 2008 ordination in Birmingham. Photo by Mary D. Dillard, One Voice/courtesy Catholic New Service

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Joseph S. Marino as the first resident apostolic nuncio to Malaysia. Archbishop Marino, a native of Alabama, previously served as the apostolic nuncio in Bangladesh. He is pictured during his 2008 ordination in Birmingham. Photo by Mary D. Dillard, One Voice/courtesy Catholic New Service

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In an escalating confrontation, dozens of Islamists marched to the Vatican’s mission in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, after prayers at a mosque on Friday (July 19), and presented a 670-word memorandum demanding his recall.

The troubled envoy, Archbishop Joseph Marino of Alabama, arrived in the Southeast Asian country in April.

Marino’s problems began after his interview with reporters on July 11, when he spoke about the Christian Federation of Malaysia’s controversial decision to call God “Allah,” the Arabic word for God.

“It seems to be quite logical and acceptable,” Marino said in the interview.

Some Muslims complained, and the Malaysian government summoned Marino on July 16 to discuss the issue.

Hours later, Marino responded that his interview was “never intended as an attempt to intrude into the internal affairs of the country.”

Marino’s statement, however, inflamed Islamists who see the use of the word “Allah” as a bold attempt to convert Muslims to Christianity.

“The Vatican Envoy’s statement is reflective of the Vatican City’s sheer ignorance of the special place given to Islam as the religion” of Malaysia, the protest memorandum said.

The Islamists were supported by hard-line organizations trying to increase the use of Shariah law in Malaysia.

“Joseph Marino is an enemy of the state,” said Imbrahim Ali, president of Peraksa, a conservative, nongovernmental organization, according to Agence France-Presse. “His actions have strained race relations in the country.”

Muslims, who are mostly ethnic Malay, comprise 60 percent of Malaysia’s nearly 30 million residents.

Christians number about 9 percent — mostly ethnic Chinese and Indians — including 800,000 Catholics.

The Islamists also demanded “an official apology from Vatican City to the people of Malaysia for such an offensive statement.”

The controversy erupted in 2009 when some Christians in Malaysia published Bibles and other religious literature translated into the country’s official language, Bahasa Malaysia.

The Christians translated “God” as “Allah.”

Malaysian Islamists, however, said Christians were using the word Allah to convert Muslims, which is a crime in Malaysia.

The government then banned publications using the word Allah to identify a non-Muslim God.

A local Catholic newspaper, The Herald, sued.

The High Court ruled against the government and legalized the word Allah for use by non-Muslims.

Soon after, several churches in Malaysia were firebombed, and the government appealed the case, which is currently pending.


  1. Daniel Berry, NYC

    sheer ignorance. The Qu’ran itself by no means downplays that Jews and Christians (which the Qu’ran refers to as People of the Book) honor the same god Muslims do. What the devil is wrong with these people? They’re as ignorant as the American politicians & preachers who refer to Islam as a cult or a false religion and such like, or refer to Allah as an “idol”

    • Daniel Berry, NYC

      know what? that kind of thing really isn’t needed here – but I learned a long time ago that so-called religious people are the meanest people on the planet.

  2. This incompatibility and intransigence shows ALL religions to be nothing more than Bronze Age MYTHS perpetuated incomprehensibly into the 21st century! “Nature” is one of the premiere peer-reviewed scientific journals on the planet and I know well of the rigors, scrutiny and accuracy given to each article before they are ever published. Having helped edit and index a smaller, specialized peer-reviewed scientific journal reinforced my reverence for the scientific method, science writing and the TRUTHS that science bears witness to.
    Religion is a dying institution. Bronze Age MYTHS are trumped by science EVERY time. I started reading about animal behavior, especially primatology back in the early 1960′s when Dame Jane Goodall had her first National Geographic article published on her Chimpanzee studies. I’ve known about Frans de Waal and George Schaller for over 30 years. Their observations and writings were key in my total rejection of religions and the brainwashing and science denial condoned by its clergy and followers
    I think some of the biggest inroads could be made by dispelling the myths and falsehoods about atheists and enlightening society with true statements about the origins of morals and ethics. I comment frequently on sites that discuss evolution v. Creationism and constantly remind people that morals and ethics existed millions of years before mankind arrived on the scene. Our animal forbears evolved ethical and moral behaviors as an enhancement toward their group survival rates and this has been proven from the likes of Dame Jane Goodall, George Schaller and Frans de Waal, among others. We inherited those traits from our simian ancestors. A book I frequently recommend is Dr. Carl Sagan’s ”Pale Blue Dot”, a truly poetic introduction to the realities of science, evolution AND atheism. Though he may seem confrontational in his speaking engagements, Richard Dawkins confronts religion with impeccable logic, reasoning and rationality in his book, ”The God Delusion.” Anyone who has the slightest doubts about their religious beliefs owes themselves a favor by reading that great book.
    I frankly find it astounding that religion holds such a grasp on people’s minds in this 21st century. I never swallowed the indoctrination virtually all of us receive from ’those religious folks’ and decry the brainwashing of Sunday schools, churches and even our own parents in most cases. If there was something more akin to ”Science Fridays” on PBS that could direct a child’s natural curiosity about dinosaurs, the stars and life around us into a fuller and deeper understanding of palaeontology, astronomy and biology, this world would be a much better place! Plausibility enters in this discussion also. Would you take seriously the Bronze Age myths from 2,000 years ago or the rational progression of scientific thought since the Age of Enlightenment? When you know about how the scientific method works and the exacting rigors of peer-reviewed scientific publication, I think the choice is obvious! I commonly end my comments with:

  3. one reminder to Malaysian,s The word Allah has been founded before Islam.You have no right to claim its yours and that Christians can’t use the word. we as Arab Christians have Allah word in our Arabic version bible.Let’s pray for harmony among all religions and to pray that fundamentalists do fail in their bid to persecute others.
    By Fouad Abi-esber
    The writer of the rise and fall of Lebanese Christian in Lebanon

  4. actually Allah is a moon god. So why are we even so frustrated when the muslims want to have that word solely use by them? the word ‘Tuhan’ means God not the word ‘Allah’ as claim. Why do we fight and treat the word ‘Allah’ as an idol of our lives?

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