News / Asia

    Malaysia Curbs on Use of 'Allah' Hurting Moderate Muslim Image

    Muslim demonstrators pray outside the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Oct. 14, 2013.Muslim demonstrators pray outside the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Oct. 14, 2013.
    x
    Muslim demonstrators pray outside the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Oct. 14, 2013.
    Muslim demonstrators pray outside the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Oct. 14, 2013.
    Reuters
    Malaysia's self-styled image as a global leader of moderate Islam has been undermined by a court ruling that only Muslims can use the word “Allah” to refer to God, with a growing number of Muslim scholars and commentators condemning the decision.
     
    A Malaysian court ruled last week that the word was “not an integral part of the faith in Christianity”, overturning a previous ruling that allowed a Malay-language Roman Catholic newspaper to use the word.
     
    Since then, confusion has reigned over the interpretation of the ruling, with government ministers, lawyers and Muslim authorities giving widely diverging views on its scope. Critics of the decision have said it casts a chill on religious rights in Muslim-majority Malaysia, which has substantial minorities of ethnic Chinese and Indians.
     
    Commentators in some countries that practice Islam more strictly than Malaysia have condemned the ruling, arguing that the word Allah has been used by different faiths for centuries. Christians in Malaysia's eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak have used the word for generations, as have Christians in the Middle East.
     
    Pakistan's Dawn newspaper said in a commentary that the decision was a “sad reflection on how an otherwise modern country, widely seen as a role model for the Muslim world, is succumbing to the current trend of insularity in matters of faith”.
     
    Reza Aslan, a prominent American Muslim theologian, called the ruling a political decision and said it had made Malaysia an international laughing stock.
     
    “It's an embarrassment, it's shameful, it's not worthy of a great country like Malaysia,” he said this week on radio.
     
    “(The ruling) just casts this negative light on a country which ... is a model for Muslims around the world, and yet this has made it a laughing stock. We are laughing at you.”
     
    Reza noted that the word Allah literally means “the God” and thus could not be considered a name.
     
    “It's almost a blasphemous thought to think that God has a name.”
     
    The court's ruling came as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak seeks to consolidate his support among majority ethnic Malays, who are Muslim by law, and secure the backing of traditionalists following a divisive national election in May.
     
    The editor of the Catholic newspaper is appealing against the decision.
     
    Facing a strong backlash to the ruling, government ministers have said in recent days that the large population of Christians in Sabah and Sarawak would not be affected by the ruling - an interpretation disputed by most lawyers. They have also said the ruling only applied to one particular newspaper rather than the general use of the word.
     
    Adding to the confusion, Malaysia's tourism minister said this week that east Malaysians could use the word Allah in their home states but not if they were in west Malaysia.
     
    Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said in an opinion piece this week Muslim scholars outside of Malaysia found the “Allah” issue “absurd”.
     
    “Few Muslims around the world would endorse the claim that we have a monopoly on the word 'Allah',” he said.

    You May Like

    Ethiopia's Anti-terrorism Law: Security or Silencing Dissent?

    Yonatan Tesfaye was detained in December 2015 on charges under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation; eleven statements from his Facebook page were used as evidence

    Egypt Orders Trial for Journalists Charged With Harboring Reporters

    Order targets journalists' union chief Yehia Qalash, Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim for allegedly spreading false news, harboring fugitive colleagues

    Nigerian Oil Production Falls as Militant Attacks Take Toll

    Country no longer Africa's petroleum king due to renewed militancy in its oil-producing region

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahdai
    X
    Lisa Schlein
    May 31, 2016 1:56 PM
    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahda

    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Mobile App Allows Dutch Muslims to Rate their Imams

    If a young Dutch-Moroccan app developer has his way, Muslims in the Netherlands will soon be able to rate their imams online. Mohamed Mouman says imams rarely get feedback from their followers. He believes his app can give prayer leaders a better picture of what's happening in their communities — and can also keep young people from being radicalized. Serginho Roosblad reports from Amsterdam.
    Video

    Video Moscow Condemns NATO Plans to Beef Up Defense in Eastern Europe, Baltics

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday an upcoming "landmark summit" will enhance the alliance's defensive and deterrent presence in eastern Europe and the Baltics. He is visiting Poland ahead of the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Zlatica Hoke reports
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video F-35 Fighter Jet Draws Criticisms as Costs Mount

    America’s latest fighter plane, the F-35, has been mired in controversy. Critics cite cost, faulty design, and the attempt to use it to fill multiple roles. Even the pilot’s helmet is controversial. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Concerns Over Civilian Suffering as Iraqi Forces Surround Fallujah

    Thousands of residents are trapped inside the IS-held city ahead of a full scale Iraqi offensive aimed at retaking it.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora