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What's in a Name? Malaysia's ‘Allah’ Controversy and the Judicial Intertwining of Islam with Ethnic Identity

NUS Law Working Paper No. 2014/008

NUS - Centre for Asian Legal Studies Working Paper No. 14/10

30 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2014 Last revised: 16 Jul 2016

Jaclyn L. Neo

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Faculty of Law; National University of Singapore (NUS) - Centre for Asian Legal Studies (CALS); National University of Singapore (NUS) - Centre for International Law

Date Written: June 7, 2014

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Neo, Jaclyn L., What's in a Name? Malaysia's ‘Allah’ Controversy and the Judicial Intertwining of Islam with Ethnic Identity (June 7, 2014). NUS Law Working Paper No. 2014/008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2464409 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2464409

Jaclyn L.C. Neo (Contact Author)

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Faculty of Law ( email )

469G Bukit Timah Road
Eu Tong Sen Building
Singapore, 259776
Singapore

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Centre for Asian Legal Studies (CALS) ( email )

469G Bukit Timah Road
Singapore

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Centre for International Law ( email )

Block B, #02-01
469 Bukit Timah Road
Singapore, 259776
Singapore

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