What's in a Name? Malaysia's ‘Allah’ Controversy and the Judicial Intertwining of Islam with Ethnic Identity
NUS - Centre for Asian Legal Studies Working Paper No. 14/10
30 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2014 Last revised: 16 Jul 2016
Date Written: June 7, 2014
This article examines a recent Court of Appeal judgment upholding the government’s prohibition of a Catholic publication from using the word ‘Allah’ against the backdrop of Malaysia’s public discourse on Islam and its role in Malaysian state and society. I argue that one can situate and comprehend the judgment as appealing to and realizing a conception of Islam as ethnic identity, which departs from the conception of Islam as a universalist religion. I show how this conception has been gradually constructed in Malaysia’s public discourse, by identifying a (until now) marginal line of judicial precedents that foreshadowed the Court of Appeal’s judgment. Lastly, I highlight the ways in which the judgment affects minority rights and prospects for integration in Malaysia, even as it raises critical questions about Malaysia’s proclaimed status as a moderate and modern Islamic society.
Keywords: Constitutional Law, Religion, Islam, Ethnicity, Constitutional Interpretation, Judicial Review
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