Malays are a people group living chiefly in Malaysia and Indonesia. Malays make up just more than half of Malaysia’s population and are 99 percent Muslim.
According to Christian advocacy group Open Doors, if a Muslim person in Malaysia is caught leaving Islam, they are sent to an Islamic re-education center in a jungle-with very tight security.
Open Doors also states that Malays who leave Islam are refugees in their own country and are treated as outcasts.
Several Christians in Malaysia, who wish to remain unidentified for safety, have told Open Doors that the kind of Islam practiced in Malaysia is unique because although it is part of the Hanafi school or Sunni Islam sect, it is a cultural version of Islam where everything revolves around the family.
Open Doors workers in Malaysia report severe consequences for being caught with Malay church members have caused a resistance by other Malaysian Christians to admit Malay Christians into their congregations.
Malaysia is not an Islamic state. All religions are supposed to freely practice their faith.
But strict laws have been imposed. A Malaysian newspaper the New Straights Times reports the religious department of the country has passed legislation that prohibits non-Muslims from using 40 words, including the word “Allah.” Christians say this is a problem, because some of these words are used in the local-language translations of Bibles.
The Institute on Religion and Democracy spoke with Open Doors concerning this legislation.
Jerry Dykstra, media relations director for Open Doors states an indigenous group, who constitute 70 percent of the country’s Christian population, have been using the word “Allah” in their theological vocabulary — both in worship in the Malay language, or in written form in the Malay Bible — for more than 100 years.
Dykstra says the government, individual Sultans and state-sponsored Muslim bodies dictate that “Allah” exclusively to Muslim Malays, despite widespread criticism of the policy from Muslim scholars around the world.
Christians also say that other rules have been enacted which severely restrict the growth of Christianity. One regulation states no Christian church can be built in Malaysia if there is a mosque in a five kilometer radius.
The Wall Street Journal reports one state in Malaysia (Pahang) has told hotels not to place non-Islamic materials in guest rooms. The report says the state’s Islamic and Malay Customs Council declared the prohibition in a letter in early March. A statement says the placing of any religious materials other than the Muslim faith is offensive to Muslims.
“We were shocked when we got the letter, but of course we have to comply,” said Raymond Leaw, the assistant executive manager of the Swiss Garden Spa and Resort in Kuantan in Pahang state.
He says the hotel’s rooms did have Gideon Bibles inside the guest room drawers. “We have put a notice in the drawer asking guests to call us if they required any religious reading materials, be it the Bible, the Quran or any others we have,” he said.
Eric Paulsen, co-founder of “Lawyers for Liberty” is quoted by Worthy News as saying the ban highlights a “growing Islamisation in Malaysia and growing encroachment of Islamic authorities in the day-to-day lives of all Malaysians, whether Muslims or non-Muslims.”
Paulsen states he is concerned that the move to officially prohibit non-Islamic religious materials from Pahang hotel rooms could lead to a slippery slope where more liberties are lost as federal and state authorities favor the rights of Muslims over those of non-Muslims.
One former U.S. diplomat to Malaysia says he is very concerned about the direction the nation is taking. John Mallot is a former U.S. ambassador to Malaysia. In an article he wrote for the Malaysian news website Malaysiakini, he commented: “Malaysia is the only country in the world that ignores history and linguistics and dares to ban non-Muslims from uttering the world ‘Allah’.”
Mallot adds “While there are racial and religious issues in every society, what makes the situation in Malaysia different is that it is the government that has condoned and even provoked these tensions for its own political purposes.” If unchecked, he adds, the ‘Allah’ controversy has the potential to tear Malaysia apart.
He also says historically, Christians used “Allah” first. He says archaeologists have found an Arabic-language bible that is nearly 1,300 years old, in which God is called “Allah.”
The Anglican Bishop of West Malaysia is accusing the government of Malaysia of being silent on both the issue of anti-Christian and anti-Chinese provocations. The Rt. Rev Ng Moon Hing says he is “really worried for the nation in the next ten years if nothing is done to deal with these issues.” He spoke with reporters on May 10 after being elected as President of the Bible Society of Malaysia.
Bishop Hing expressed concern about a government raid on warehouses of the Bible Society in January. Officials confiscated Iban and Malay language Bibles claiming the use of the word Allah for God violates Malaysian civil law and offends Islam.
Bishop Hing says there is no place in the country’s society for racism. He was referencing remarks made by the president of the Islamic Society of Malaysia who stated that allowing Chinese migration to Malaya was a mistake. The Islamic Society leader went on to say the Chinese were intruders who had been brought to Malaysia by the British to oppress the Malays.
Bishop Hing stated that “religious faiths must promote the community. “It must promote harmonious living, living together and sharing.”