Malaysia and the Myth of Islamic Tolerance


Malaysia is often held up as the model of what a modern Muslim-majority nation can be. The ruling class, the bumiputra (literally “princes of the earth”) are largely, though not entirely, Muslim. But when Malaysia’s High Court ruled in late December to lift a government ban on non-Muslims using the word “Allah,” Christian churches became the targets of fire-bombing attacks. This eruption of violence suggests that there is trouble brewing just beneath the surface even in this supposed paradise of Islamic moderation.

At last count, eleven Christian churches and one Sikh temple have been attacked in Malaysia. That makes twelve attacks against places of worship in half a month’s time. What does it say about Islamic values when the impetus for these attacks was the use of a particular word?

Everyone agrees that the word “Allah” pre-dates the birth of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. In Malaysia, as in most of the Muslim of the world, Allah simply means God, the same God that, according to the Quran itself, both Christians and Jews worship. Nonetheless, use of the word Allah among non-Muslims has long been prohibited by law in Malaysia. A December 31 ruling by a Malaysian court overturned that law, a move that upset many of the nation’s Muslims, who make up about sixty per cent of the populace. They claim that non-Muslims will use the word to corrupt Muslims into accepting infidel beliefs.

Once again, we are presented with evidence of Islamic intolerance and insecurity. To his credit, Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib condemned the attacks, which undermine both his “One Malaysia” policy and his re-election prospects. But no matter how much tolerance the leader of this nation may preach, the actions of his co-religionists speak much louder. Emboldened by an increasingly aggressive, violent, world-wide Islamic resurgence over the last few decades, this episode reveals what expatriates who have lived in Malaysia have long claimed: that the supposed harmony of Malaysia is nothing but a glossy veneer that barely covers up the inequities and prejudices of this society.

The Malaysian constitution grants special privileges to the bumiputra, or as they are called in the constitution, Malays. Malays are defined as those citizens who profess the religion of Islam, habitually speak the Malay language and conform to Malay customs. The constitution directs the King of Malaysia (Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy) to safeguard the special position of the Malays and to ensure that a certain percentage of public services and scholarships and other similar educational privileges are reserved by the federal government for the benefit of Malays.

The bumiputra enjoy other advantages as well. A certain percentage of stock in publicly-traded companies is reserved for the bumiputra. Traditionally, they pay less for real estate than other Malaysian citizens. This is clearly a separate and unequal society. Which is not to say that Malaysia is not governed in a more liberal fashion than reactionary Muslim nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Western clothing can be found on the streets of Kuala Lampur. Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, if less than equal compared to their Muslim masters, are at least allowed to practice their faith in relative peace.

Or rather they were allowed to worship in relative peace. The government of Malaysia has officially condemned the attacks, even as it tries to have the troublesome court ruling that set off the firestorm reversed. Troops have been dispatched to protect non-Islamic houses of worship, but it seems unlikely that many of the 2.3 million Christians who live in Malaysia feel safe going to church.

Even in this most mainstream of Muslim-ruled nations, supposed Islamic tolerance has been once again shown to be a matter of style, not substance.

  • Bob Jones

    So I take it then that all Christians and Christianity is then also guilty of the wrong acts of the few?

    • Jim

      Sorry Bob but you're making the usual noises of the appeaser and seem to have swallowed the Islamic propagander that the left liberal crowd like to spout at those who see Islam for what it is. Stop trying to justify THEIR murderouds actions by comparing events with Christianity etc. It just doesn't hold water to the intelligent among us. Unlike Islam that exhorts violence and death to non muslims (read the Qu'ran), other religions/cults, call them what you will, do not stand by and watch as its followers go on murederous marches calling for those who criticise its claims to be beheaded and its institutions and builings to be destroyed. I'm sure if you were interested enough in the TRUTH, you would find that muslims (while praising their god) are the only ones trying to dominate the rest of the world through intimidation , fear and murder tactics. Killing indiscriminately (more muslims than anyone else), and using weak minded people such as yourself to point an accusing finger at the West, saying it's all our fault somehow…..I've said it before on many forums…let the muslims be free of threats of death to make their own choices in life and then watch as Islam collapses under its own ignorance and stupidity like a rotten piece of fruit.

    • ebonystone

      "So I take it then that all Christians and Christianity is (sic) then also guilty of the wrong acts of the few?"

      Clearly not, since the attacks by Christians in the name of Christianity have been so few — perhaps a few dozen in the last many years. But since the number of attacks by Moslems in the name of Islam in the same time frame comes to hundreds of thousands, then it becomes reasonable to think that Islam and (virtually) all Moslems bear some of the guilt.

    • Beth

      "Once again, we are presented with evidence of Islamic intolerance and insecurity"

      The tree is known by its fruit.

      Bob…despite what world leaders repeatedly assert, Islam is not a peaceful religion. Unlike Christianity in whose name wars have been fought, but having NO Scriptures to support those wars in the teachings of the New Testament – Islam can find explicit commands for violence against 'unbelievers' in their Koran.

  • khar

    Well, these days, without Muslims, who are largely ignorant, intolerant, and illiterate, the world will be much better of. We will not have no suicide bombers, half the dictators,and the best, a major slow down in the increase of the world population-all of them good news for the world.

    Though the first 2 I mentioned seems to be more important to leaders of the world, to me, the last one is the most important single issue we face to day for the world as a whole and for the muslim nations. We can look at Muslim nations today around the world… the number of people in these countries is just too numeruous and the more danger phenon is that the rate of increase is so high that they can no longer support their population. Now, Muslims in africa, middleEast, south and south east Asia are moving to the first world non-muslim nations at the alarming rate.. and soon Western europe will become a muslim majority region unless the flow of Muslim is halted somehow. Besides, I forsee major crises in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia simply because the country can no longer support its population while the government there fails to do anything…

  • Rich Trzupek

    UPDATE: As of yesterday "Allah" no longer means "God" in Malaysia. At least according to these guys:

    Neither God nor Allah have yet commented on this ruling.

    • penang

      It is actually a simple thing.

      They have declared that their "Allah" is not God.

      Which means, whatever they are worshiping, they are admitting to the world that they do not worship God.

    • Jim

      Mmmm..Well don't hold your breath. Contrary to widespread belief, Allah is not the same God as worshipped by Jews and Christians. This idea has been deliberately nurtured so that the moon god of the early Arabic tribes is readily accepted as being THE same God as worshipped by Abraham, Moses etc…..It also makes it easier to get people from the other faiths to convert as theythink they are still being faithful to THEIR GOD…..Why do you think the moon plays such a significant role in Islamic life…on their flags. on their mosques and even their calendar is based on the lunar cycle…..Perhaps this is why they are all LUNARtics….lmao

  • Irene Faulkes

    As a Chrsitian and one who has often been to Malaysia, visiting churches as their guest and preaching, I personally would prefer the Malay Bible and Christians to use a word other than "Allah" for our God, I would prefer to bow to the wishes of the Moslems in this matter than to use a word similar to the one they use for theirs in the Koran. The reason for this view is that the God of the New Testament, Who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a clearer revelation of the God of the Old Testament. That God, albeit the same one, is wrongly considered by Jews to be One, without Son or the Holy Spirit, even though such a God is clearly shown in their Old Testament. As for Islam, their God is far from being our Christian God. I would suggest they are welcome to using "Allah" and that the Christians find a more suitable word to use in the Malay language. As many of the Chinese and Indian Churches use English, this should not be a problem. As for Christian Malays, they dare not show their colours and are not to be found in Christian churches.
    Malaysia will never stop treating Chinese and Indian citizens as they do, viz. being considered second rate citizens, to the extent that people of both those races, especially Chinese, will take on the Moslem religion for the financial benefits.
    In the past, they have militarily thwarted Chinese attempts at having a political party in power. Some Malays who converted to christianity, migrated elsewhere. The Western world needs to wake up to what is at the bottom of Moslem ideas and that is world domination religiously and politically.

    • Abdul Rahman

      The actual word for 'God' in Malay is 'Tuhan'. The Indonesians too are using it. Just so you guys know. :)

      • penang

        Bullshit !

        I have business in Indonesia and I travel to Indonesia every month.

        And yes, I attend churches in Indonesia as well.

        They use "Allah" !

        Stop spreading lies here.

  • penang

    I am from Malaysia, and yes, I am a Catholic.

    To me, Islamic persecution is not a new "news". It has been happening, yes, in Malaysia, supposingly a "liberal" Islamic country, even before I was born (and I am not that young anymore).

    The thing we are fighting for is NOT only the word "Allah", but the right to practice OUR religion without intervention from the Islamists.

    You see, the "Amen" that we use is very similar to the "Amin" that the Muslims use.

    If we, the Christians, do not fight for the word "Allah", knowing the Malays (and we know them very well) they will go a step beyond, and will attempt to ban other words, including "Amen".

    The Jews have been practicing their religion for longer than the Christians.

    The Christians have been practicing our religion longer than the Islamists.

    And how would you feel if your junior telling you that you can no longer do the things you do just because he says so?

    That is why we fight for the right to use the word "Allah".

    It's not that we have to use the word "Allah", it's the RIGHT to use it.

    And there is another worry — the Western world.

    Too many in the West do not know Islam.

    Europe is being invaded and they are making a move into the heart of South America — and North America in the future.

    If you guys are not careful, and if the successfully taking over, we Christians in Asia will have no where to turn to, when they move against us.

    Please wake up, Western worlds. Please wake up before it's too late !

    Thank you !

  • sptay

    I'm Malaysian and I had lived in Malaysia for 50 years of my 56 years & I'm an Evangelical Christian…I say the writer is DEAD WRONG…..& the HEADLINES UTTER RUBBISH…. Malaysian Muslims are mostly moderate but of course sensitive to what they see as an increasing intrusion to their way of life….

    Most Muslims (not all) see Westernisation as mostly Christian intrusion…they linked vices (free mixing between sexes leading to promiscuity; alcohol abuse and dishonouring the elders) with Westernisation and subtle Christian intrusion…and they get (rightfully) upset…..

    As a Christian in Malaysia I'm called to show love and turned the other cheek and walk the extra mile so that the Muslims will see the real Christ and not the ones portrayed (supposedly ) by the West…….& correct this great misconception…

    • Keithrage

      Another example of blissful ignorance, Indo-chinese Muslims have always been hotheads ready to rise up and shed blood for any perceived offence, Wake up and see the religion of intolerance it's called Islam.

    • penang

      While it is true that most of the Muslims in Malaysia are not bloody murderers, the same could be said to the Germans during WW 2.

      Most of them are not bloody murderers, but they support Hitler. End result? 6 Million Jews were slaughtered.

      Let it be known that I am a Catholic in Malaysia, and I doubt the above writer is a Christian at all.

      The government of Malaysia employs a lot of "hired hands" to do their bidding for them, including "writers" who frequenting online forums to spread their lies and deceits to the world at large.

      Of course they will never tell you that "I work for the government of Malaysia and I am here to lie to you".

      They will tell you that "I am an evangelical Christian, and I can tell you that the government of Malaysia loves Christians very much !"

      Yes, that's what they will do, and I have read too many of their beautiful lies in many many online forums.

      I do not like to bad mouth others but Christianity has taught me one thing — Thou Shalt Not Lie — and telling the truth as it is, no matter how ugly and painful it can be, is what I am doing.

      Do not be deceived by these "hired hands".

  • Daryl M

    Malaysia is a place that many use as a positive example of modern muslim nation. However, most who do this have never been there or not spent enough time to get to know the country. I fell into that trap as well after my first trip there. However, after each visit, I learned that Malaysia is more about appearance than substance. And the appearance is often just a thin veneer. The reality is that this country is racist and corrupt. You realize this as soon as you board a Malaysian Airlines aircraft when you read the rules for entrance into the country where it is boldly declared that citizens of Israel are not allowed! The favouritism shown towards the bumiputra is sickening. People of Chinese descent are treated like second class citizens even though they are the hardest workers. Censorship is rampant. Prime targets are anything Chinese or Christian. The judiciary is corrupt. I was in the country when Anwar was arrested for alleged sodomy and saw the people I know come into the office with eyes red from the tear gas. Malaysia has a lot of growing up to do, but while it is shackled by its systematic racism and corruption that will never happen.

    • penang

      Those of us who stay in Malaysia know all along that Malaysia has fooled the world.

      It is so unfortunate that the world is so easily fooled.

      Malaysia keeps on telling the world that it is a model country of "racial harmony" and "religious tolerance" but actually it is nothing of the sort. And all the while when the "leaders" go to United Nations or any international conference and repeat that same line, we in Malaysia feel so sick to that damn lie.

      But the world community just believe everything – line, hook and sinker.

      What we do not understand is why in the world the Western country are so blind?

      The truth is everywhere – in Churches that are not permitted to build/rebuild and there is one Catholic church that took over 30 years to build because of official disturbance – in all the very glaring official racist policies, where those bumiputras get everything – in the judiciary system turning into Kangaroo courts, and so on.

      Over time we in Malaysia understand one thing – the Western countries are blind.

      They are not only blind in the case of Malaysia's lies, they are also blind to the fact that they (the Western countries) welcome Islam into their countries.

      Europe is being invaded by Islam and no one cares.

      Similar things are happening in the United States and in the South American countries.

      Still no one cares.

  • Dave

    Interesting article, I would have to disagree with the use of the term Allah. Allah is a pagan false deity, the moon god, and is radically different than YHWH the God of the Bible. On the surface they may seem the same and some from all three monotheistic may say that they are but they're not. Here's something that I had put together awhile back, I hope it sheds some clarity on this issue.
    BTW nice blog!

  • 2Malaysia

    To Penang, sptay and others(especially Westerners),

    I am a Malaysian and an Evangelical. I would agree with Penang – that Christians and adherents of other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and others are persecuted in so-called ‘moderate Muslim’ Malaysia: usually not overt violence but by putting them as second-class citizens in their own country. Christianity is the most hated and maybe ‘feared’ by the Muslim clerics because the God of the Bible is in such contrast to the cruel Allah of the Quran and the love and gentleness of Christ is in stark contrast to the power and sexual lusts of Muhammad. Also Christianity is an evangelizing faith , just like Islam’s ‘dakwah’ – Christianity uses preaching but Islam uses coercion and promises of ‘no persecution’ or ‘material benefits’ for those who convert(in Malaysia). Our BN leaders need Islam to remain a stronghold on the Malays so that they can always use religion and ‘God’ to ‘control’ them so as to remain in power. If there is TRUE freedom of religion in Malaysia, the Malays may convert to Christianity, Buddhism etc. and the ruling regime cannot use religion to consolidate their power amongst the Malays. Ah—race and religion: how useful are these to remain in power.
    As for sptay – are you living in the same country as I am? The article is correct. Yes, many moderate Muslims in Malaysia are not violent but many are silent when Islamic terrorists around the world commit their acts. Even Mahathir now has the cheek to say that 9/11 might have been staged! Once in a public university, I saw a flyer which says ‘Kami Benci Israel'(translated: We hate Israel). Did the Jews do us any harm? Isn’t all these hatred because it is inherent in Islam?
    About turning the other cheek – you quoted it out of context. Yes, Christians should NEVER resort to violence and doing to Muslims what they do to us(ie persecute us). We should love Muslims. But we should also speak the truth in LOVE. What is love if there is no TRUTH? Speaking the truth means we should:-
    1. Evangelize the Muslims – Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.(2Timothy 4:2). For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whoseover shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. (Mark 8:35)
    In Malaysia, we are forbidden by law to preach the gospel to Muslim Malays. It is thus an affront to what we Christians believe and are COMMANDED to do by our Lord!
    2. Tell the truth about the evil of Islam – For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.(Ephesians 6:12). Anyone who has read the Quran and Hadith will know the TRUE nature of the religion. It is a religion bent on world DOMINATION – not unlike Hitler’s fascism but added in is Allah(‘God’). Far more powerful than Hitlerism, Maoism or Stalinism because ‘God’ is put in place. Westerners don’t realise that ‘moderate Muslims’ are not practising TRUE Islam which aims to subjugate ALL ethnic groups to one religion – Islam : either peacefully or by force. It is pure theocracy that controls ALL aspects of life – religion, economics, politics, societal etc. There is no such thing as apolitical Islam. Islam is a POLITICAL religion.

    Penang, the West is blinded by political-correctness and a guilt-trip that is self-imposed. That is a wide topic that will just lengthen my comments and so I shall not comment here.

    2Malaysia because reality in Malaysia is NEVER the 1Malaysia Najib keeps bragging about. 2Malaysia is more like it : The Masters are “Tuan Melayu”- chauvanistic, Muslim Malays who from time to time will show their kris with the threat of spilling the blood of ‘Chinese pigs’ and other ‘infidels'(such as Christians?) while other non-Malay, non-Muslim Bumiputras(like Ibans, Kadazans etc.), Chinese,Indians etc. are relegated to second class citizens who are denied rights but yet must work hard for their Masters and still be patriotic to a country that treats them second-class. THAT is the REAL Malaysia.

  • Freed

    I was born in malaysia and have lived there for 17 years before I found my freedom elsewhere. Believe me, we as non malay (and non-muslim) are treated like 3rd class citizen. This system is worst than the aparteid, and it is unbelievable that it still exist in this moden age. Majority of muslim are just hiding feelings, like they are peaceful loving people, but if know them deeper, they are not far from becoming violence. During the 911 attack, most of them rejoiced, and you can see smiling faces among those muslim. They have great hatred for israel who did nothing to them, just because their koran said to hate the jews. Every malay have to be a muslim, where is the freedom ? I am continuing to pray for this country and believe the Lord will one day change all of this

  • Yussef

    Whenever I read about Malaysia, I think the government is very ignorant and just wants to be buddies with the Arabic world… They are overreacting to look "tough" when in fact, they are presenting themselves as a joke. They said Human Rights, Democracy, Communism and Capitalism is an invention by the Jews to control the world. How illogical and contradicting is that to say? Democracy is a Greek word, communism and capitalism are eachothers contradicts and Human Rights are universal!

    Is the democratic country that Malaysia wants to be in fact saying that democracy is bad?

    Why do they hold double standards, such as caning for the Malay population (which is against human rights), but not against their Indian and Chinese population?

    Why are the Malaysians the only ones not to recognize the Iraqi government, when all of our Arab neighbours, including my country Tunesia, have done it?

    If Jordan and Egypt can recognize the state of Israel, and Tunesia has a Jewish parliament member, then why does Malaysia- who is not in the region and has little to do with any kind of conflict, still have to be very strong against Israel and won't allow Israeli visitors or allow it's own citizens to enter Israel?

  • Yussef

    This is all fake bravoure from a country that desperately needs to find itself again. If it wants to be the economicly strong, vibrant, "one malaysia" – it should start with honestly trying to be an open secular state with equal rights for everybody. The languages Hindi, Cantonese, English and Bahasa Malayu are indeed mixed- but in a way that it's incorrect; with the result that nobody can speak 1 language fluently and people have a hard time communication with eachother even on an university.

    I am Muslim but my Jewish cousins are very similar in language and customs to me and we are living side by side in our Arab nation. Why in an asian nation this has to be different? Even Indians and Chinese feel unwanted and discriminated against!

    Is it not time for Malaysia to start looking at their own problems first? The crooked cops, caning, the selling and mysterious disappearings of Birmanese "illegal" refugees to Thai gangsters for example?

    Sorry for my bad English, Arabic and French is my strongest.

  • Yussef

    I'm a Muslim from Tunesia. I live in Bisert, in an area where many Jews live, as well as some Christians. The majority is Muslim though, but our Jewish cousins have always said "Allah" as well, and so did our Christian cousins. We have no problems with it because this is simply the arabic name, just like "God" is in English and "Dieu" in French. "Allah" is the same as "Eliah" in Hebrew, very similar. I have Jewish friends in Tunesia and nobody have a problem with them saying Allah because we all speak Arabic or French outside of prayer.