KUALA LUMPUR – As the Catholic church grapples with the government over the use of the word “Allah”, the country may yet face more economic setbacks as foreign embassies contemplate updating their travel advisories until the matter is resolved.
According to one of the diplomatic aides, some embassies are in the midst of drafting out travel advisories to their citizens who plan to travel to Malaysia.
“Although we understand that the ‘Allah’ issue and church attacks are strictly an internal matter, we are in the midst of considering a travel advisory,” said a member of a foreign embassy staff who declined to be named.
A travel advisory is a public notice issued by a government agency to provide information about the relative safety of traveling to or visiting one or more specific destinations.
Its purpose is to ensure that travellers make an informed decision about a particular travel destination, and to help them prepare adequately for what may be encountered on their trip.
Travel advisories may relate to issues such as inclement weather, security matters, civil unrest or disease.
Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen told Bernama on Sunday, Jan 10, that fears over the attacks may threaten tourism industry’s growth.
Ng said that the religious tension could cause fear among foreign tourists who are considering to visit Malaysia, hence affecting the country’s economy.
She added that the church attacks were sending the wrong message to foreign tourists, as Malaysia was always touted as a harmonious country despite its multi-racial and multi-religious society.
“But as far as security is concerned, the embassy was satisfied with the answers given by the police and the home ministry officials on Monday,” she added.
On Monday, Home Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Mahmood Adam gave assurances to 96 representatives from the diplomatic corps that the situation in Malaysia was “under control”. Also present during the briefing for diplomats was Deputy Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar.
“The officials told us that they have already obtained several leads for the Metro Tabernacle attack, as there were five to six eye-witnesses,” Ismail said.
According to another embassy spokesperson, the police said that most of the church attacks were “uncoordinated and spontaneous”, while others were mere copy-cat efforts.
“It’s still business as usual for us. And embassy staff have not been put on any special alerts,” the spokesperson added.
During the briefing, Western diplomats had asked the Home Ministry why the government banned the use of the word “Allah” by other religions besides Islam.
According to news reports, Mahmood said that Malaysia was different from other countries and explained that while the term is used across the board in countries like Indonesia, it is exclusive to Islam here.
He also asked them not to compare apples and oranges.
Since last Friday, the country has been gripped by a raging debate over the word since the High Court ruled on December 31 that the Catholic weekly The Herald’s national language edition had a constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in its Christian sense.
The ruling sparked protests from Muslim groups and has been linked to a series of firebombing and arson attacks against at least eight churches in the past few days.