KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 18 — Banning non-Muslims from calling God “Allah” is tantamount to “syirik”, which refers to the sin of practicing idolatry or polytheism and is an unforgivable crime in Islam, respected Islamic scholar and former Perlis Mufti Datuk Dr Asri Zainul Abidin has warned Muslims.

The influential Islamic scholar stressed that Muslims must answer “Allah”, if a non-Muslim were to ask them who his true god is.

“They cannot say, ‘Your god and my god are different. You cannot say the name of my god’,” Asri wrote in a post on his blog yesterday.

“If they say that, then they are committing ‘syirik’,” added the Muslim cleric.

Asri also noted that the Qur’an and the Sunnah allow, and even encourage non-Muslims to use the Arabic word “Allah” to describe God, as long as they are referring to “The Supreme Being”.

“And if you asked them, ‘Who sends down rain from the sky and gives life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness?’ they would surely say ‘Allah’. Say, ‘Praise to Allah’; but most of them do not reason,” he said, quoting Surah al-Ankabut verse 63.

Asri also noted that Prophet Muhammad had told Christians to swear on the name of “Allah”, and not Jesus Christ.

“Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, “Be,” and he was.

“The truth is from your Lord, so do not be among the doubters. Then whoever argues with you about it after [this] knowledge has come to you - say, “Come, let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves, then supplicate earnestly [together] and invoke the curse of Allah upon the liars [among us],” said Asri, quoting Surah Ali ‘Imran verses 59 to 61.

The well-known Muslim scholar also questioned the logic of prohibiting non-Muslims from referring to God as “Allah”.

“What about Christian Arabs who come to Malaysia? Will they be forced to stop themselves from saying ‘masya Allah’ (God has willed it) and instead, replace it with ‘masya God’?” said Asri.

“Saying that the ban is absolute is not based on Islamic teachings. What more a statement that makes apostates of those who allow such usage, as if we are making apostates of Prophet Muhammad and of Muslims in the entire world,” he added.

Asri also noted that the Sikh holy book uses the word “Allah”, while non-Muslim Chinese in Kelantan are used to saying the Arabic phrase “insya Allah” (God willing).

On Monday, the Court of Appeal ruled against a 2009 High Court decision allowing the Catholic Church to refer to the Christian god with the Arabic word “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its weekly paper, the Herald.

The court adjudged the usage of the word “Allah” as not integral to the Christian faith and said that allowing such an application would cause confusion in the Muslim community.

The ruling was censured in several international publications, such as Indonesian daily Jakarta Post, which wrote an editorial yesterday saying that “those who claim exclusivity to God undermine their own faith, and inadvertently or not, preach polytheism”.

International current affairs magazine The Economist pointed out yesterday that Christians in the Middle East commonly refer to God as “Allah”, and called the court verdict an “unhelpful contribution” to religious discourse between Muslims and Christians.