Malaysia: Muslims vs. Christians

Malaysia has increased religious tensions between its predominately Muslim population and its Christian minority groups. On Monday, a Malaysian court ruled that a Christian Newspaper may not use the word “Allah” when referring to God. The Malaysian appeals court overturned a 2009 decision that allowed Malay-language newspaper, The Herald, to use the word “Allah”. The decision was intended to protect Islam, Malaysia’s official religion, from conversions. According to the chief judge, the use of the word “Allah” is not central to the faith in Christianity and the use of the word by non-Muslims will only cause confusion to the community. Also the chief justice said that the biggest threat to Islam in the country was the “propagation of other religions to the followers of Islam.”

This recent decision has outraged Christian and other religious minority groups in Malaysia. They emphasize that Malaysia’s constitution says, “Islam is the religion of the federation but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony.” They argue that God is part of every religion and Christians in Indonesia and much of the Arab world continue to use the word without opposition from Islamic authorities.

This is clearly an infringement on the rights of minority religious groups to freely exercise their beliefs. I agree with the argument presented by the Christian minorities that God is part of every religion and the word “Allah” should not be exclusive to Islam. I would agree with the judges of this decision, if the word were being used in a derogatory or damaging manner. The main reason behind the decision, to protect Islam from conversions, seems inadequate. By allowing The Herald to use the word does not seem to result in any propagation of other religions to Muslims but rather it is propagation to the Christian readers of The Herald. Christian minorities have already said that they will appeal this decision to the highest court in Malaysia and it will be interesting to see how this case turns out.

-Do you believe that the Chief Judge’s reasoning behind his decision was proper?

-If this case were brought in the US, would there be any different arguments and outcomes?

Sources: Reuters; NY Times

Picture: BBC News


  1. The Chief Judge’s reasoning was not proper at all; however, this is coming from someone that has lived in America all his life. From an American’s perspective, I believe church and state should be separated and that if the Malaysian courts had a substantive legal issue with this language in the newspaper it should have been put forth. Otherwise, advocating for one religion and denouncing another should not be the emphasis of a decision. There are also freedom of speech implications, which prevent language from being used as one sees fit. If the laws in Malaysia are that much different than US laws and support this type of decision, then that is a completely different issue.

    If this case was brought in the US, any judge who has taken constitutional law would know better than to let this case get as far as it did in the Malaysian courts. This is clearly a violation of freedom of speech and by preventing the use of a religious word to refer to a religions deity is the sovereign repressing religion and implicitly advocating other religions, both of which are against the constitution.

  2. I would have to agree that the Chief Judge was wrong. In Malaysia it seems that even the Constitution they have helps stoke the flames of religious intolerance by basically saying Islam is the ruling religion, but we’ll tolerate other religions. Instead of having the set up like our Constitution that has a general blanket rule on religious freedom to worship without singling one religion out to be favored over the overs. As a Catholic I have never used the word Allah in Christian religious references to God, but being born in the United States and only leaving the country twice, I can’t speak for the other 1.2 billion or so practicing Catholics in other parts of the globe.
    If this case were in the United States, it would have totally come out differently. First, the ruling would of had an effect on the government putting prior restraint on an idea the newspaper wanted to publish and infringe on the paper’s freedom of speech protections. Also, the favoring of one religion over the others and the government’s overt acceptance of that would have violated our Establishment Clause in the 1st amendment by promoting one religion over the others.
    However, Malaysia is their own country with their own set of ideals and they believe that this is necessary for their country.

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