Religion

In Malaysia, Muslims Claim Exclusive Rights To The Word 'God'

| by Jonathan Wolfe

Malaysia is a religiously diverse nation. Although the majority of Malaysians are Islamic, a large number of Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus are found in the Southeast Asian nation as well.

Malaysia markets itself to the world as a modern Islamic nation in which people of all creeds live harmoniously. But, as a story in the New York Times this week shows, this isn’t necessarily the case. Case in point: only Muslims are allowed to use the word “Allah,” despite the fact that the word simply means “God” in the Malay language.

“Honestly, I think it’s nonsense,” said kindergarten teacher Belinda Buntot. “Of course we use Allah. We can’t teach the kids without it.”

Religious minority leaders challenged the law in recent years, but their efforts went nowhere. Here’s what the leader of country’s National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs said on the topic.

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"The conference decided that the word Allah is a sacred word specific only to the religion and followers of Islam,” the leader said, “and it cannot be used or made to be similar with religions other than Islam.”

Zainah Anwar, director of the women’s rights group Sisters in Islam, says Malaysia’s religiously moderate image is a façade.

"Malaysia's moderate Islam is only touted for Western consumption,” she says. "For too long this government has given almost a carte blanche to the religious authorities and the belligerent supremacists to take the lead and define what Islam is and is not."

Wan Saifal Wan Jan, executive director of the libertarian-leaning think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, says you won’t find a law like this anywhere else in the Muslim world. 

Jan says that at a recent conference, "This Palestinian guy came up to me and said: 'The world is laughing at you. I'm from an Arab country and everyone uses the word, every day.’”

Photo credit: Dated Updates