Podcast: Malay privilege and the 'Allah' debate

My first ever audio slideshow/podcast!! Enjoy!

Transcript after the jump

Hello, and welcome to Cycads’ first ever podcast, with your host, Alicia -. In today’s episode, I’ll talking about the escalating debates concerning the ban on ‘Allah’ in Christian worship in Malaysia. Also, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the reasons behind the violent reactions that have erupted following the lifting of the ban. The recent arson attacks on Sikh and Christian places of worship, and the uncompromising view that Allah belongs to only Malay Muslims are indeed worrying signs for many of us Malaysians. Perhaps they are more than signs, but are alarm bells telling us that our multi-religious harmony is showing more than just a few cracks. There is one side the regular invocation of the special status of Islam in Malaysia. A status many believe must be preserved but at the same time racial and religious tensions must not be provoked. The question here is whether the two can be reconciled in the most peaceful and mature manner. If one is to trace the opinions of many Malaysian Muslims, whether those seen on TV, on Facebook, or in the blogosphere, there are thousands who insist on the exclusive use of Allah by Malay Muslims. I need to stress the Malay Muslim part, because elsewhere in the Middle East, and in Indonesia, Allah has been mentioned in worship for centuries. Sikhs also worship Allah. We as observers are wondering: if this is the case, the Allah debate is not non-issue in Malaysia and we can get on with our lives. However, this is not so. Ignorance is perhaps one issue, but also the threat of losing the exclusivity and privilege of being Malay in Malaysia has enjoyed for decades. For many, since time immemorial. Sharing a central figure that is close to the hearts of many Malay Muslims means giving up an element that is crucial to the authorisation of Malay identity. The other recurring theme is the sensitive-ness of religious issues in Malaysia, especially where Islam is concerned. What is understood in Malaysia is that sensitive matters concerning religion, race, and ethnicity which are all strongly factored in question of Malay privilege, cannot be discussed, however calmly and reasonably, for fear that the hell gates of race-based violence may erupt. I’ll be thinking about this debate in the weeks to come and would like to hear from you. Malaysian blogs and news websites are flooded with commentary regarding these recent events and so fresh insight will be greatly appreciated. And that’s all from me, thank you for listening! I’ll leave you with ‘Haiti’ by The Arcade Fire. May our thoughts and prayers be with those who are surviving and those who have lost their lives to the last week’s hurricane in Haiti. Thank you!

By Angry Malay Woman

I like plants.


  1. The Allah debate only makes sense from a linguistic point of view, although I’m told that the term “Tuhan” and “Allah” have different nuances. But it still doesn’t make it reasonable to ban the word, only makes for a strong case for the strong discouraging of use of the word.

  2. Jha,

    It would be interesting to find out the origins of the word ‘tuhan’, seeing that Malay Muslims occasionally use it too to refer to God, and to mean the God(s) of the Malaysian collective as in the national oath (rukun negara). It would be quite disheartening for some who’ve raged over the exclusive use of Allah if ‘tuhan’ came from non-Islamic origins, no?

    Looking at other words used by Muslims in Malaysia, I think we are shifting towards the use of the word ‘solat’ or ‘salat’ and away from ‘sembahyang’ which is thought to have animist linguistic origins (as in sembah hyang, the ancestral spirit). But sembahyang won’t just go away, it’s deeply ingrained in the Malay language and was adopted and still used in Islamic worship, just as Allah (the one name, among his other 99) had been adopted and embraced by Muslims.

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