‘Allah’, Malay Supremacy & Islam Misunderstood

The protest against a controversial ruling allowing Catholic weekly Herald to use “Allah” in its national language section reflects an inferiority complex of the Malay Muslim community in Malaysia. However, the community is not to be blamed.

By Khoo Kay Peng

There is a need to look deeper into the protest to find out why some Malay Muslims, including educated urban professionals, are reacting antagonistically against the sharing of the use of ‘Allah’ with those of the Christian Catholic faith.

Ironically, the Malay language had borrowed the word ‘Allah’ from the Arabic language. It is used by Arabic speakers of the Abrahamic faiths, including Christians, as a reference to God. There were historical claims that the Christian community in East Malaysia had used the reference long before the formation of Malaysia.

Although local publication of Malay language bibles were not encouraged in the country and most were taken in from Indonesia, there was never such a big reaction against the use of ‘Allah’ until recently when the government refused to renew the publishing permit of a Catholic newsletter.

Instead of joining the blame game, it is pertinent for us to seek to understand what triggered the protest. The prime reason is the decades of intertwining between religion, race and politics.
The arson attacks on churches and a few demonstrations around the country reflected an eerie similarity to other political protests and demonstrations warning against questioning the Malay supremacy. Here, the protesters have warned against challenging their religious supremacy and exclusivity.

Is there a zero sum game in the use of ‘Allah’ between Muslims and Christians?

Why are Muslim Arabs able to accept and share the use of ‘Allah’ with those of other Abrahamic faiths but not some Muslim Malaysians?

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