Categorised | Commentary

Kedah, the Islamic state?

IF a picture paints a thousand words, then one wonders what description of Kedah its billboards are now painting. A drive down Lebuhraya Sultanah Bahiyah in Alor Setar reveals a succession of billboards for a variety of companies and products with slogans in Jawi script. In fact, one of the billboards promoting Media Prima-owned radio station Hot FM even has its iconic deejay, Fara Fauzana, decked in a black tudung. The image would not be so jarring if not for the fact that in reality, Fara does not cover her hair.

Hot FM billboard on Lebuhraya Sultanah Bahiyah, featuring Fara in tudung

Hot FM billboard on Lebuhraya Sultanah Bahiyah, featuring Fara in tudung

There is nothing wrong with having Muslim women wearing tudung on billboards. There is also nothing wrong with having Malaysian billboards in Jawi. In fact, having Jawi and Muslim women represented in this way promotes the diversity that forms the backbone of Malaysian society. But we must also understand that the tudung and the Jawi script, though religiously and culturally legitimate, are not politically neutral. In fact, in Malaysia’s current social and political context, these could be manipulated as convenient symbols of Malay and Islamic supremacy.

These billboards have proliferated in Kedah due to a change of policy post-March 2008 by the PAS-led government. This is identical to PAS’s policy in Kelantan, too. It is also no secret that Hot FM, and Fara, acquiesced without much ado. In fact, Fara’s publicist said she looked “prettier in a tudung”. The question, though, is whether this policy is endorsed by PAS’s Pakatan Rakyat (PR) partners?

The policy has been in place in Kedah since July 2008, so it is likely that the DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) aren’t too fussed about it. But this then begs the question of consistency within the  PR. Say the PR took over federal government one day. Should we expect drastically different PR governments depending on which party – DAP, PAS or PKR – wins the largest number of seats? Can we rely on these billboards to predict what a PR-led Malaysia might look like?

Suria FM billboard at Jalan Tun Razak roundabout. Note Linda Onn in white tudung on right. Another billboard further along the North-South Highway, in Penang, shows Linda with hair exposed

Suria FM billboard at Jalan Tun Razak roundabout. Note presenter Linda Onn in white tudung on right. Another billboard further along the North-South Highway, in Penang, shows Linda with her hair exposed.

Not religion per se

The issue has nothing to do with religious doctrine. Sure, it is a widely accepted view that Muslim women are supposed to cover their hair. Nevertheless, ulama and Muslim leaders remain divided on whether it is the state’s duty to enforce dress codes upon women.

If this is the case, what message are the PAS-led governments sending? What does this say about the PAS slogan, “PAS for all”? Being an Islamist party, would PAS respect the rights of not only non-Muslims, but Muslims who differ with PAS?

For example, many would respect that 100% of PAS’s muslimat observe the tudung stringently. But if they ever came to federal power, what policy would PAS have on Muslim women who do not wear the tudung so strictly, or at all? Some might argue that this is much ado about nothing, since Fara herself continues about her daily business with her hair uncovered. However, the reason why Fara is able to do this is because she is based in the Klang Valley, not Kedah or Kelantan.

On the other hand, if the companies involved have acquiesced to PAS’s demands without much noise, we must ask ourselves if this has anything to do with religion at all. Why appease PAS and not the Umno-led states, for example? Are these companies conceding that Umno is less “Islamic” than PAS? Is it truly an attempt to appease Muslim “sensitivities”, or is it merely an attempt to pocket the Muslim ringgit? Could the issue be a case of manufacturing and then cornering the “Islamic” market on everything from instant coffee to broadband services to radio airwaves?

Nescafe billboard with Jawi script

Jawi script dominates billboards in Kedah, from Nescafe ads...

The issue of using the Jawi script is less problematic. After all, Jawi is but the Malay language in Arabic script. If Malaysian society evolved such that all Malaysians, regardless of race and religion, learnt Malay in Jawi, then there would be no problem at all.

The problem now is that, for Malaysians who don’t read Jawi, the signboards would be quite alienating. Sure, many of these billboards reproduce the slogans in the Latin alphabet. But, for example, the Hot FM billboard has its slogan – Bukan sekadar kecohkan pagi, tapi teman hangat sepanjang hari – only in Jawi. What would a non-Jawi literate Malaysian think if he or she encountered this billboard for the first time in Kedah? Besides, Jawi itself has its share of racial and religious loadings. For example, the ritual circumcision of Muslim boys in Kedah is referred to as “masuk jawi”.

Why the fuss?

Why, some might ask, make such a fuss about billboards? Do these actually translate into everyday practices in Kedah? Arguably not – folks in Alor Setar saunter along as usual, the non-tudung-ed women unperturbed by the billboards, and the non-Jawi readers still able to choose their own coffee, internet connection or radio station.

... to the internet

... to ads for the internet

Nevertheless, if images represent who we are as a nation, then we have to ask ourselves what these images from Kedah mean. Are they a political signal from PAS, not just to Kedah and Kelantan, but to the rest of the country? And what does this say about the PR’s internal consistency? Exactly what would a Malaysia under the PR look like?

PAS MPs have gone out of their way to convince Malaysians that they are no longer obsessed with setting up an Islamic state. But actions often speak louder than words.

Additionally, is the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) for or against this? Perchance this, too, plays into the hands of a more syariah-compliant Umno?

Ultimately, the issue goes beyond the PR and the BN. It actually comes back to the rakyat – when we vote for a better Malaysia, what does that Malaysia look like to each of us, really?

Shanon Shah was born and raised in Alor Setar. He was flabbergasted by the change in his hometown’s billboard-scape in his first proper return after more than a year.

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110 Responses to “Kedah, the Islamic state?”

  1. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Shanon,

    I have often said that a Malaysian Malaysia is NOT possible at all. Why? Because the Malays have a completely different cultural and religious DNA from the Chinese. The Malays are basically an Islamically conservative lot, whereas the Chinese are secular and more westernised. What Malaysians can hope for is UNITY IN DIVERSITY under a Ketuanan Islam and/or Ketuanan Melayu a la the 1957 social contract.

    As for PAS or Umno or whatever – it is not relevant. It does not matter who is on top because that will not change the nature of Malaysian society. You have to understand that first.

  2. serve says:


    Flabbergasted??? Served you well….

  3. dreamingsteven says:

    What a sneaky way to spread Islamophobia on your website. Never mind having a liberal Malay [Malaysian] writer to try and legitimise this silly point of view. If you don’t like Islam, just come right out and say it rather than try to hide behind your veneer of “I’ve got nothing against Islam, but…”

    [1. How does this article spread Islamophobia? In what ways? Be specific, please.

    2. How is this commentary “silly”? Again, please be specific so that we can learn from you.

    Jacqueline Ann Surin
    The Nut Graph]

    • Shanon Shah says:

      I don’t usually respond to ad hominems (“liberal Muslim”, “silly”, etc.), but the point needs to be re-stated sometimes:

      I am a practising Muslim who loves Islam too much to let it be hijacked by political parties and interest groups, and my conscience as a Muslim dictates that I speak up accordingly. At the same time, I am a citizen of a plural society, and respect my fellow citizens too much to keep quiet over issues I feel are important to them, too.

    • menj says:

      I have to agree with “dreamingsteven”. This is nothing more than an attempt to mock and ridicule Islam behind the guise of “I have no problem with tudung-clad women and Jawi, BUT…” What does the appearance of tudung-wearing women and Jawi have got to do with Kedah being an “Islamic state” or not?

      • Reza says:

        “What does the appearance of tudung-wearing women and Jawi have got to do with Kedah being an “Islamic state” or not?”

        There are two reasons why women wear tudung: they do so on their own volition or they are forced to wear it. If the latter is true, even if it is just in the context of billboards, then the state government can be considered Islamic. Similarly, why force billboards to be in Jawi when there are more people who can read romanised Malay? What is the state’s rationale for implementing this rule? Some have implied cultural reasons but that is complete nonsense. Jawi, although it is actually Malay, is strongly associated with Islam because of its use of Arabic script. You would have to be blind no to see the very strong link between Jawi and Islam. If this is not the case then how do you explain religious schools forcing their students to write in Jawi?

  4. zikri says:

    Why should you pick a petty issue? Klakar la….

  5. ApesGalore says:

    The question raised is, “Exactly what would a Malaysia under the PR look like?”. [While] this article does raise a concern, however at this point I am for the lesser of two evil. Billions of ringgit to continue going down the BN drain, or change to a new team which may or may not be more socially conservative? What is to prevent us from changing it back if PR is the bigger screw up? That’s the beauty of democracy. It would be healthier for Malaysia if we have change from time to time.

    The rakyat has matured enough now to take a more adventurous position with a new team. Give PR 5 years, what can go wrong? In Penang, budget surplus in the first year! And that is with funds promised earlier but withheld by the federal govt! From this article, PR should take note and be mindful to always send a clear, simple and accurate message what exactly PR stands for in ALL their actions, at all times.

    • Reza says:

      I don’t think that the author is supporting BN by questioning PAS’ actions in Kedah. Being pro-secular, I am leaning more towards DAP myself. But the fact is that even PR has its flaws, and this issue one of them. The intent of this article is not to take sides but more to raise a relevant issue.

      But I agree with you that PR should win the elections at least once, although i am not very optimistic of their leadership capability. There are just too many component parties with differing ideologies to form a stable government, although I’ll be glad if they could prove me wrong. The reason I want PR to win is so it will humble BN, which thinks that it is invincible at the moment. Losing the federal government to the opposition will change BN for the better.

      • ApesGalore says:

        I agree the writer does not support BN and he is actually creating an ‘awareness’ of the ghosts found in PR. As difficult and impossible as it may be, exorcism of these ghosts needs to take place for PR to truly be the alternative party. Otherwise PR would just be another BN in guise. You’ve said it, to humble BN so that they can be better! I am totally for a two party system. We MUST have two parties for all Malaysians to progress and prosper in the long run.

  6. Farouq Omaro says:

    The Indonesian Bible board once published the Bible in Jawi and copies of this Bible were once available in Malaysia. This 1912 edition of the Bible, known as Kitab Suci Injil, was widely available until 1929 when it switched to the Roman script. So, if PAS had its way, would they bar Christians from using Jawi? Just wondering.

  7. shernren says:

    I’m a Malaysian Christian; but I’ll gladly live with a million billboards in Jawi if they’re put up by a government that stops withholding Bibles from my Malay-language brethren and forcibly converting the Orang Asli.

  8. Bernard says:

    “These billboards have proliferated in Kedah due to a change of policy post-March 2008 by the PAS-led government.”

    Is there actually such a policy? I honestly want to know.

  9. Nelly says:

    To me, it is more like promoting Arabian products. Not Malaysia…

    • Raymond says:

      It has also happened in my apartment located in Taman Bukit Subang, Shah Alam. I wonder if it [indicates] the starting of implementation for an Islamic state. Quite scary… look at the Middle East for an example.

  10. Farouq Omaro says:

    Jawi is just a script, just like the Chinese and Tamil script.

  11. Mode says:

    Islamic market, plain and simple. Maybe these brands just want to speak to and be associated with the Jawi-reading demographic.

    I can guess, for example, that my grandparents would be more comfortable buying and drinking Nescafe, now that it’s no longer such a foreign brand to them.

    Please, please, please.. we already have a crippled news media — we don’t need our creative advertising industry politicised as well.

    • vavaxn says:

      Actually, our advertising industry is already politicised. There are so many restrictions, it’s unbelievable. Greeting cards for instance: Christmas cards can’t read “Merry Christmas” when produced in Malaysia and distributed to the nation; it can only read “Season’s Greetings”. Plus, they can’t show any image of a church, crucifix, Christ, angels or anything symbolically religious to that festival; only generic stuff like Christmas trees, snow, holly and all that jazz. How biased is that?!

  12. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    It does not matter whether it’s PAS or Umno. Malaysia was, is and will always be a Muslim country. You mean to tell me that Malay Malaysians are suddenly going to give up Islam? Dream on! Ain’t gonna happen dude!

    • Palladio says:

      agree 🙂

    • amakudari says:

      Basically, what you (Ketuanan Melayu, Ketuanan Islam) want is “If you are not happy with it, just get out of Malaysia, you PENDATANG! “

      • Dr Syed Alwi says:

        Dear amakudari,

        Why is the minority in Malaysia making so much noise when the minorities elsewhere are contented with their political voicelessness?

        Malaysia is a Muslim country with a majority Muslim population that wants some kind of Ketuanan Melayu-Islam. It is democracy itself that empowers the majority Muslim population to adopt pro-Muslim policies.

        In Singapore, the Malay minority has NO political power. Yet they are NOT as noisy as the Malaysian non-Muslim minority. Why? I think that you need to reflect on that.

        • Reza says:

          There are several reasons for this:

          1) The non-Muslim population of Malaysia, although a minority, is a SIGNIFICANT minority making up around 40% of the population, and thus they deserve to be heard. Whereas in Singapore, the Malay minority is way lesser at only 14% of the total population.

          2) Singapore does not practice racial politics, trying to divide the races. There is no Chinese quota system. In Singapore, you succeed on merit, not who you know or what race you come from. There is also no “Ketuanan Cina” nonsense. The Malays are not sidelined, so they have little to complain about.

          • voster says:


            Correction: Singapore does not practice explicitly codified racial profiling, but it does so implicitly, whether in street namings or an undiluted focus on the rather Chinese character of its society or culture.

            Or perhaps one could look at the prohibition of Malays from the army?

            The Malays do suffer unofficial disadvantages, just as the minorities in China do without any official ones.

            Do not be content to just look at the statute books to find imbalances, but look at how it is done in practice.

            Just look at the French, who do not even acknowledge ethnicity in its census. Why are the banlieues filled with disaffected French of African descent?

            It’s because the cultural mainstream is defined narrow enough that they are outsiders and suffer from disadvantages without official sidelining.

            The same is true for the Malays in Singapore.

          • Dr Syed Alwi says:

            Dear Reza,

            First – yes I agree that meritocracy is a good policy.

            BUT – a big but – Singapore Malays have NO voice in the running of the country. The PAP has its ‘Speak Mandarin’ campaign and is currently importing – by the millions – so-called talents from China.

            Trust me – the Singapore Malays would certainly like to have a political voice.

            Maybe there is no explicit Ketuanan Cina in Singapore – but what happens in practice is that the ball is tossed around among the Chinese – with us Malays running around trying hard to catch it but never quite doing so.

          • AgreeToDisagree says:

            Hi Reza :

            You are wrong that racism does not exist in Singapore. Try the below site for a realistic look at racism [in Singapore] […] :


          • Reza says:


            Yes, racism does happen in Singapore. I did not mean to say that it was COMPLETELY absent. But what I meant was that it is not as prevalent as it is in Malaysia. Furthermore, I am skeptical about the link you posted, which is the website of a Singaporean opposition party. Since politicians usually try to exaggerate certain issues for political mileage, I do not how accurate the article is.

          • Dr Syed Alwi says:

            Dear Reza,

            In Singapore – the ‘speak Mandarin’ thing has made it difficult for many Malays. Jobs advertisements have a speak Mandarin requirement.

            Also the Malays have no political bargaining power and have no say in the running of the country.

        • voster says:

          @Dr Syed Alwi

          You say “minorities elsewhere are contented with their political voicelessness”.

          No minority is ever contented with their voicelessness. You only think they’re contented because they are voiceless and therefore cannot express discontentment.

          Furthermore, examine the ranks of the Singaporean opposition and you’ll find a disproportionate number of Malays.

          This is true for many other states as well with imbalanced political powers. Just look at the new Slovakian ruling coalition and their Most-Hid Hungarian allies.

        • JayCKat says:

          Well Dr Syed Alwi,


          The current Malaysian population composition was produced by government policies of social re-engineering and certain immigration policies. Nice that we have [Khir Toyo], a second generation Indonesian and already a very very rich man and former MB.

          Thus, so sorry for not being the typical “minority” group. Our populations may have been crushed, our nation ruined but the BN government still hasn’t broken our spritis.

          So no. I will not be be silent while you walk all over me. I wonder how you would like it when some other majority decides to ill-treat you.

  13. zOOl says:

    Alamak, tok nenek orang Cina dan India Malaysia dulu boleh baca Jawi, rilek je. Tak rugi pun siapa-siapa nak belajar Jawi ke, Mandarin ke, Tamil ke, Ruski ke.

    Ni pun warisan kebudayaan malaysia juga…

  14. thokiat says:

    Dalam mempromosikan Jawi atau BM, pokoknya bahasa lain seharusnya tidak ditegah sama sekali. Samalah seperti bila Muslim dilarang meminum arak, bangsa lain tidak seharusnya dilarang berbuat demikian. Barulah PAS for all memadai.

  15. voster says:

    I think the insistence of the jawi script has more nationalistic than religious connotations, considering that the two are often conflated.

    Hot FM’s decision not to render every word said in Latin alphabets is comparable to ads containing Chinese characters that do not render everything said in that writing system into Malay or English. The driving force? Demographics, of course. Who are the bluk of Hot FM listeners, or buyers of non-halal mooncakes?

    It is therefore more an indication of stark realities in ethnic divisions factoring into marketing decisions.

    As for whether this may impact a federal PR government, it should be noted that the varying degrees of severity (or strength, if one disagrees with the underlying connotations of the word ‘severe’) of these policies are indeed proportional to the number of PAS representatives.

    In the case of a federal makeup, the current division of seats would not be allow the degree of dominance PAS has in the northern or eastern states. But this would perhaps, at some point further down the road, lead to interesting dynamics in the federal PR caucus, with frustrated PAS MPs complaining about seat allocations as a sheer limiter on their influence while claiming to be a large reason why some DAP or PKR MPs were elected in the first place.

    As for regional variations, I actually think in the long run, allowing it would be a better way to manage diversity. For one thing, Malaysia has an institutionalised winner-takes-all, very centralised political system. Allowing state and federal political arms of parties to operate with more leeway would be a boon for devolving powers from the federal executive, it would also allow more freedom for ideas to filter through from state levels, as they do with the fragmented parties in American states.

    Furthermore, considering the astonishing degree of diversity (of ideas, not just cultures) in Malaysia, regional variations would give citizens more choice. Whereas a conservative federal government will mean the same blanket restrictions throughout Malaysia, having individual states enact these policies will mean citizens will still have a modicum of lifestyle choices within the federation, as opposed to having to move beyond our borders to find another territory that suits their tastes better.

    The flexibility this allowance for variations allows the state to be more accommodating to our diversity than otherwise.

    As for companies marketing just to meet regulations, really, if we’re gonna tick off every such instance in the world even for just one large MNC (say, Nestle), we’d take all year.


    • Reza says:

      “Hot FM’s decision not to render every word said in Latin alphabets is comparable to ads containing Chinese characters that do not render everything said in that writing system into Malay or English. The driving force? Demographics, of course.”

      The target demographic audience is already addressed by the ads being in Malay. Having them in Jawi is just overkill. It also doesn’t make much advertising sense. Why replace a Malay ad that not only addresses the primary target audience but is also accessible to Malay-speaking non-Malay minorities with a Jawi ad that ONLY addresses Malays?

      • voster says:

        I was referring to the author’s contention that Hot FM’s ad did not attempt to write out the same words it wrote in Jawi in other scripts as well because it didn’t need to, since its target market would understand the Jawi anyway.

        I did not try to justify whether Jawi needs to be included in the first place or not.

        But on your point, “Why replace a Malay ad that not only addresses the primary target audience but is also accessible to Malay-speaking non-Malay minorities”, you are quite correct in that they would miss out on Malay-speaking Sabahans and Sarawakians. But whether they form a significant enough demographic in Kedah is up for debate.

        • Reza says:

          I wasn’t referring to Sabahans or Sarawakians in particular. I meant Chinese [Malaysians], Indians [Malaysians], etc., in Kedah who can read and speak [Bahasa Malaysia] even though it is not their first language.

          But yes, I suppose there is no need for ads to be in any other language other than romanised [Bahasa Malaysia] for most of Kedah, neither is there a need for it to be in Jawi. Unless of course, the ads are in the few areas where the majority is non-Muslim (if any), then non-Malay, non-Jawi, non-Islamised ads should be permitted.

          I supposed I am not really overly concerned with what goes on in Kedah. But I do share the author’s concern about the implications should Pakatan win the GE one day. Should that happen, I hope they don’t have the same funny ideas for the Klang Valley. Otherwise, this non-religious, pro-secular, liberal poster will have to take up arms against the PAS government ;-D.

      • Dr Syed Alwi says:

        Dear Reza,

        While I may agree that an ad in Jawi is overkill – you cannot however say the same about the tudung. Compliance with Syariah is what the majority of Malaysian Malays want anyway. Especially PAS. So while I may agree that the Jawi script is a little too much – I however feel that the tudung part is fully justified in view of the Muslim audience.

        • Reza says:

          The main issue I have is with the use of Jawi in ads. I suppose I can compromise on the tudung issue, as long as it only applies to Muslim women who appear in ads. But, I would be completely opposed if PAS also enforced the wearing of tudung (or force the covering of the head in any manner) for non-Muslim women appearing in ads.

  16. stewoolf says:

    1. Chinese M’sians dare not comment on the use of Jawi on ads for fear of making the use of Chinese characters similarly indefensible despite nearly 100% of them opposing the Islamic state.

    2. The perception that some Malaysians are adopting Arab culture wholesale is saddening, considering the fact that NOT one holiday, out of many, in M’sia, celebrates the Malay heritage or culture!!

    3. It is comforting to know that the author, being Muslim, felt uncomfortable with the ads like I do, being non-Muslim. (I have no problem with ads written in Arabic, or others, targeting foreigners in Malaysia.)

  17. sam says:

    Arabisation in full effect.

  18. Mattu Dennon says:

    Religion is a nuisance and only deterrent to humanity’s progress that has survived the dark ages.

    • voster says:

      Organised religion preserved Greek and Roman texts that sparked the Renaissance during the European Dark Ages, which itself was a result of political collapse with little to do with organised religion.

      Oh, and how about them providing the framework for organised healthcare, which some states either cannot afford or oppose out of libertarian tendencies (i.e. the U.S.)

      One deterrent to progress is a hard-headed and inherent rigidity against logic or single-minded perception of cause and effect that retards scientific inquiry. These traits, you unfortunately display, betrayed by simplistic generalisations in attempting to make a far-reaching declaration in a one-liner.

      • Reza says:

        “One deterrent to progress is a hard-headed and inherent rigidity against logic or single-minded perception of cause and effect that retards scientific inquiry.”

        I am confused. Are you arguing this point for or against religion? The reason being is throughout the ages, many religions have gone out of their way to oppose scientific inquiry, such as with earlier Christianity, giving rise to secret science societies like the Illuminati. Even Islam these days doesn’t seem to care much for science, which is a stark contrast with the Golden Age of Islam, when Muslims scientists were among the most advanced minds in the world before the Islamic hardliners took over and ruined the religion with idiotic fatwas.

        The arts, especially, have really taken a beating under the current Islamic regimes. An example on the top of my head, is the dumbing down of Malaysian horror films because some are considered “tahyul”, which is a load of BS. There are of course many other examples.

        Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that I am anti-religion, even though I myself an non-religious. I think that religion is fine if done in moderation and common sense and realistic, practical considerations are factored in its implementation instead of blind rigid adherence to religious doctrine. I am just making an observation.

        • voster says:

          That the early Christian church was unerringly anti-science is inaccurate. Gallileo might be commonly brought up, but that was because of one specific claim.

          As said, the church preserved Greek and Roman texts, and clergymen translated Arabic scholarly texts. It can be argued that without any of this, Europe would not have emerged from the Dark Ages.

          I am arguing neither for nor against religion, but the simplistic view that religions, especially religions of old, were emphatically anti-science, when there were no such explicit antagonism.

          Those who hold on to these views ignore scholarly research on history and are themselves scientifically ignorant, which is the great irony of it all.

  19. Farouq Omaro says:

    Dr Syed Alwi,

    No, not suddenly and not give up Islam. But gradually reform the way they fit Islam into society. This is already happening around the world. Where Islam and government mix, this is where Muslims will change. Where there is secularism, this is where Muslims will become more conservative. Two decades ago, would you have heard of women bashing up religious police in Saudi Arabia? Two decades ago, would there be Muslim parents taking schools to the courtroom in Catholic-majority Italy for displaying crucifixes in classrooms?

    • Dr Syed Alwi says:

      Dear Farouq Omaro,

      I am NOT against debating Islam. BUT – it has to be done in a respectful, scholarly manner. Not by rabble-rousing ! I believe that Islam needs a reform or re-interpretation. But I also know that it will take many decades – 100 years – before serious reform can take place.

      • voster says:

        I’m sure no one can argue with you about that.

        It’s just that no one can agree on the line between rabble-rousing and reasonable, or respectful and disrespectful.

        • Dr Syed Alwi says:

          Dear voster,

          Well – to debate Islam – one must follow the Islamic Adab of debate. One cannot mock or satirise Islam. One cannot make cartoons satirising Islam etc. Look – there is a way of doing things. Making fun of Islam will not lead TNG anywhere.

          • voster says:

            That’s exactly my point.

            What’s innocuous to one person can seem like mocking to another.

  20. Hwa Shi-Hsia says:

    I’m just wondering if the tudung was Photoshopped into the picture of Fara.

  21. Reza says:

    @Dr Syed Alwi,

    Who is asking Muslims to give up Islam? The point of this article is that advertisements should be free from religious/political influence to be more accessible and inclusive of non-Muslims. We do live in a multi-cultural society you know. And Malaysia is not an Islamic state, it is a state whose official religion is Islam. This doesn’t mean that the powers-that-be should go around Islamising everything. Again, I remind you that we live in a multicultural society. This move by PAS is very un-1Malaysia.

    • Palladio says:

      Or do we live in a communist state? Where everyone is equal, Reza? Give me a break!

      • Reza says:

        So what are you trying to say? That we should disregard non-Muslims just because they are a minority? You are not one of those ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ […], are you?

        BTW, communism is more about economic equality, whereas I am more concerned about the equality of rights.

    • Dr Syed Alwi says:

      Dear Reza,

      I guess in a Muslim country, public morals become a political issue of great importance. I see nothing wrong with ads that comply with Muslim moral codes. I guess PAS believes in Ketuanan Islam since they firmly believe in Malaysia’s Muslim nature. Look – in a Muslim country – public ads have got to comply to Muslim moral codes. Malaysia is NOT a secular, liberal democracy. [It] IS a Muslim country. (By the way – a Muslim country is NOT equal to an Islamic State).

      • Reza says:

        That’s just the point. You are arguing from a religious perspective, whereas I am a nonreligious, pro-secular liberal. I realise that I am in the minority, but that is not going to stop me from speaking out on these matters. I personally do not agree to the consolidation of state and religion. I believe that both should be separate and are unrelated.

        I understand that Malaysia will probably never be a fully secular country. That is not my goal. My objective is to stem the tide of radical Islamisation that is gripping this country by speaking out on this and encouraging other like minded individuals to do the same. I do not want this country to end up like Iran or some other Islamic state and I will do all I can to prevent this. You have your agenda, and I have mine.

        • Dr Syed Alwi says:

          Dear Reza,

          I too believe that Islamic radicalism is NOT good for Malaysia, Singapore and South East Asia. BUT – what is the way to stem this tide? Is it by “an eye for an eye” retaliation in rabble-rousing and mocking each other ?

          No, my friend – the only way you can find some form of equilibrium – is by an honest, respectful, scholarly two-way dialogue or debate.

          Islam can only be tamed by Islam itself.

          • Reza says:

            I am all for civilised debate on these matters. But like I said in a post in another article, you may consider some of these criticisms to be mocking of Islam, but others do not see it that way, since it is the interpretation of Islam that is in question, not Islam itself.

    • neutral says:

      Reza is right…and the point is to let everyone understand what is written on the billboard. That’s what is called advertising.

      • Thick Boy says:

        How about those ubiquitous advertisements written in Chinese or Tamil characters? Not everyone understands them but they are still advertising right?

        So, how neutral are you again?

    • zikri says:

      Paranoia at its best. Jawi does not represent religious notion, la.

      It was once our way of writing, just like the alphabet, A,B,C and so on.
      It is our main way of writing, until we all decide not to use it anymore, as it was deemed not to be an intellectual and progressive means of communication.
      There are so many manuscripts, such as Bustanus Salatin, Hikayat Raja Hadji, [which were] written in this way.

      Can’t you see it. Satu-satu kita semua nak nafi masa lalu kita semua.

      • Reza says:

        “Jawi does not represent religious notion”

        Maybe not completely, but it is at least partially. Otherwise why would PAS implement it? I can’t see any other reason.

        “It was once our way of writing”

        I believe the keyword here is ONCE. By your own admission, Jawi is an outmoded form of written communication. Which begs the question, “why bring it back?” When change happens and as long as it is not a change for the worse, just let it be. Why try to revert back to the old ways if it no longer serves us? Why can’t we just stick to romanised [Bahasa Malaysia] which is more accessible and inclusive?

    • Ahmad says:


      I was born in rural Kedah in the 60s. During my childhood, I have met many Chinese [Malaysian] uncles who can read and write very nicely in Jawi. So, it is not about Arabi[sation] or Islam. Jawi is Malay in Arabic alphabets. If you cannot read or write Jawi, then it is too bad. As bad as the Chinese [Malaysians] who cannot read and write [Mandarin].

      Is that a problem here?

      And honestly, I am not very sure what is the writer message here? We have seen in many places where Chinese writing is used without any translation at all. To me, that is not a problem. Why make a fuss in this case?

      Similarly, if you cannot read [Mandarin], most probably you would not get any good post in MCA. And this is not 1Malaysia to me.

      • Reza says:

        “During my childhood, I have met many Chinese [Malaysian] uncles who can read and write very nicely in Jawi.”

        I suspect this is more the exception than the rule, which pretty much moots your argument.

        And the point I’m trying to make is why use Jawi Malay, when romanised Malay (rumi) serves just as well or better, as it is the most widely recognised and accepted form of written Malay and is, therefore, more accessible? As another poster pointed out, Jawi is an outmoded form of written communication, so what’s the point of using it? And why are you bringing up Mandarin and Chinese writing? This is the accepted and recognised standard of writing Chinese, which is not the case with Jawi. Apples and oranges.

        • ahmad says:

          It is not accepted to you because you cannot read/write it. Very simple. If the Chinese and Indian [Malaysians] do not use [Chinese and Tamil], then it would be history as well (at least in Malaysia). That is why they are fighting for Chinese and Tamil schools. It is something that their ancestors left for them to inherit … Many Malay [Malaysians] are willing to learn and actively use Jawi. So, it is not outmoded. If you can read Al-Quran, then u already know the characters.

          • Reza says:

            Where did I say I cannot read and write Jawi? You made this false assumption just because I’m against it’s use in ads. I may a bit rusty at writing, but I assure you I can read Jawi. I was arguing this not from my perspective, but from the perspective of non-Muslims who might feel excluded because they cannot read Jawi.

            I am not against Jawi. I did not say we should discontinue using it in other areas or stop teaching it to Muslim children in school. I am merely stating that it is not appropriate where ads are concerned because they are public and can be seen by everyone and so should be inclusive.

  22. Palladio says:

    Shanon Shah,

    Saya bekerja dengan industri advertising. Bagi saya tiada masalah dangan billboard bertulisan jawi apa yang anda takutkan.. Di dalam industri ini kami mesti belajar teori budaya setempat begitu juga dengan protokol pemerintah supaya dekat dengan mereka, di mana-mana pun begitu. Kenapa anda berasa begitu risau sekali? Tidak mengapa jika anda seorang saja seorang atheist atau menolak untuk berbudaya tapi bagaimana dengan majoriti yang lain?

    Untuk pengetahuan semua TULISAN JAWI adalah tulisan orang Melayu yang di adaptasi dari tulisan Arab selepas tulisan Sanskrit. Hanya inilah tulisan orang Melayu sebelum beransur-ansur di hilangkan penjajah British selepas Merdeka. Bukankah tulisan itu sebahagian sejarah negara ini kenapa begitu jelek sekali pandangan anda?

    Kalau begitu bagaimana dengan tulisan kaum-kaum lain atas dasar memenuhi keperluan pasaran mereka? Adakah orang Melayu faham apa yang di tulis dalam tulisan Cina dan Tamil? Kalau tulisan Cina kenapa tidak dikata ia tulisan Buddhist? Kalau tulisan Tamil kenapa tidak dikata ia tulisan Hindu? Janganlah double standard. Tulisan ini tiada kene mengena dengan siapa lebih Islam. Bukankah billboard di atas juga disertakan tulisan Roman supaya difahami semua? Adakah kita bukan orang Malaysia yang saling curiga mencurigai tulisan orang lain kerana “ignorance?” Tidak kah artikel kamu di atas seolah-olah tulisan seorang facsist ala republican yang menolak “diversity?”

    Saya berada dalam industri ini dan saya faham kehendak golongan-golongan ini. Kebebasan Bertulisan Untuk Semua!

  23. Thick Boy says:

    Up until the first half of the last 20th century, Jawi script was the script used for the written Malay language in this country and had been in continuous use for hundreds of years prior. With modernisation and colonialism it is inevitable that Roman script would replace it.

    I really have no problem with my last sentence above except that the result is Jawi reading and writing skills have largely disappeared amongst the Malays – when you consider that this should have been one area in the Malay cultural heritage that should have been maintained (religious aspect is coincidental, despite its historical connection – trust me).

    In the main cities like KL, Penang and Ipoh you can see Chinese businesses and shops apply Chinese characters on their billboards, signboards and ads.

    The Malay [Malaysians] do no make this an issue as they understand this is the heritage of the Chinese [Malaysians] and also it only make economic and marketing sense for them and their customers.

    So, now why is this a problem for non-Jawi readers? The author wrote that the signboards are a problem as it is quite alienating for non-Jawi readers. Really? Can I say the same for the opposite Chinese script ads? You mean I can’t? Because then it means I would have deemed to have touched on basic human rights? Discrimination? Racism?

  24. jaki says:

    Saya sokong kerajaan Kedah meluaskan penggunaan bahasa Jawi dan mempromosikan akhlak Islami kepada rakyat Kedah khususnya dan Malaysia amnya.

    Tuan Shahnon, terimalah kepelbagaian dan kreativiti kerajaan PR Kedah.

    Tidak ada kesalahan langsung kan menerapkan nilai-nilai mulia sedemikian?

  25. Peter says:

    C’mon. No more 1Malaysia propaganda. Why forcibly talk about 1Malaysia when we obviously lack faith in it? IMHO, the real Malaysian spirit would be that when we see these signboards, we do not feel threatened. The first thoughts should be, “Cool! Another sign of diversity”.

    Sure, the signboards may not very inclusive but having the Malaysian spirit does not mean that we have to share everything or be in the know about everything. It’s about truly accepting the differences and not find anything wrong about being different!

    • Mode says:

      Agreed. Thank you!

    • Reza says:

      I agree that the government’s implementation (or rather attempted implementation) of 1Malaysia is a joke. But the concept behind it is sound, and just because the government has failed to deliver, does not mean that us private citizens should not strive toward it. Do not disregard 1Malaysia. The government has failed, so it is up to the rakyat to make it successful.

      “the real Malaysian spirit would be that when we see these signboards, we do not feel threatened.”

      Tell that to the non-Jawi reading folk who may feel excluded.

      “having the Malaysian spirit does not mean that we have to share everything or be in the know about everything.”

      I beg to differ. I believe that the more inclusive we are as a society, the more harmonious racial relations will be. No doubt we will probably never fully understand each others’ culture. But, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to be inclusive when we can.

      “It’s about truly accepting the differences and not find anything wrong about being different!”

      Being inclusive does not necessarily mean we have to sacrifice our cultural identities. I’m not saying we should completely ban Jawi, but there is a time and place for everything. And as I have pointed out repeatedly, Jawi is no longer a widely accepted norm of modern Malay culture. It may be among the older folk, but not the younger generation. So it not as if there is a HUGE sacrifice to be made in the name of being more inclusive.

      • Peter says:


        I respect your view but to me, 1Malaysia is just another side of the same coin that espouses the concept of assimilation and conformance but presented in a different albeit more acceptable form. But nonetheless, to conform. For example, transform ourselves into a bangsa Malaysia which draws no racial lines but which must have certain behaviour such as inclusiveness in all things done.

        What I’d like is [for] Diversity [to become] the Malaysian identity. Malaysia is made up of different races and cultures. The fact we can speak multi-languages naturally is our identity. The fact we can have different languages on signboards for different races is our identity. The fact we can have a mosque, temple and church in the same locality is our identity, and so on.

        Believe it or not, we have been practising this spirit for years since Merdeka, contrary to what current media portrays. We have company plaques and signboards that are written wholly in [Bahasa Malaysia], Mandarin and Tamil, and nobody gives a hoot … well, at least until someone highlights them and makes it into a national issue (something like the “Allah” case).

        The issue of identity is just a product from politicians and a small group of loudmouths still playing the racial card. The rest of us just move on with our lives with our multi-racial friends.

        • Reza says:


          To me 1Malaysia is not about assimilation. I too am not in favour of sacrificing cultural identity for the sake of racial integration. I too celebrate diversity of cultures. My understanding of 1Malaysia is that we respect each other’s rights and differences. No more racial politics and racial segregation. We are different but equal. That is 1Malaysia to me.

          My disagreement with you is your contention that Jawi is a significant part of the Malay cultural identity. My opinion is that it is not, not anymore anyway. And I also assert that PAS’s misguided intention for forcing ads to use Jawi is not for cultural reasons, but religious.

          • Peter says:


            Regardless of the terminology or catch phrase (1Malaysia or otherwise), I think we’re on the same page 😉

            On the Jawi part, as I was going through the comments here in this TNG article, I had a distinct feeling of role-reversal. I remember many debates with those pushing for a single language; debates about a single schooling system vs vernacular schools; debates against “Islamisation”. If we were to argue against Jawi, how are we different from those people we constantly debate against?

            That’s what I mean by same coin, different side.

          • Reza says:


            I am not “against” Jawi in an absolute manner. I am not calling for the complete cessation of Jawi usage. I am just saying that, in the context of ads, using Jawi is unnecessary and inappropriate. There is a time and place for everything.

            I challenge anyone to deny that romanised [Bahasa] Malay is more widely used and accepted as a conventional form of writing (among not just the Malays, but non-Malays as well) than Jawi Malay. Based on this fact, why should we use Jawi for ads when “rumi” is the standard and is more inclusive?

            And in the case of Tamil and Chinese writing, these ARE the accepted standards for writing in these languages, and thus, cannot be compared to Jawi, which is NOT the standard writing convention. And yet, people still want to keep bringing up this comparison.

        • ahmad says:

          Thumbs up Peter! Well said.

  26. zOOl says:

    Cheh! masing-masing melalak nak jadi warganegara la, rakyat Malaysia la, bangsa Malaysia la, ‘tok nenek aku dulu bangunkan Malaya’ la, ‘aku-generasi-Cina Malaysia-ke-lapan belas’ la apa la. Baru bagi papan tanda tulis Jawi, dah banyak bunyi.

    Macam-macam hal…

  27. Andrew Yong says:

    Jawi is part of Malay culture. Deal with it.

    اكو ڤن سوك مڠݢوناكن توليسن جاوي! ـ

  28. neutral says:

    Dear Thick Boy,

    For your info, when it comes to food products if it’s written in Chinese characters most of them contain lard so [Muslims] will be “was-was” about the product. And I have no idea about Tamil.

    Again, I’m from the ’70s and i can read Jawi. I’m not against bahasa Jawi and I’ve been learning bahasa Jawi since Standard One. I can still write but a lil bit rusty.

    My point of view is, to make use of advertising for whatever you had paid to advertise and not just for the primary…

  29. Palladio says:

    Shanon Shah dan Reza,

    Anda berdua memang patut belajar semula sejarah. Janganlah menggelapkan sejarah silam. Ada beribu-ribu manuskrip bertulisan Jawi tersimpan di arkib-arkib perpustakaan luar negara negara terutama di Belanda, China, Turki. Ternyata anda berdua tidak faham tugas menjaga warisan bukan hanya bersandar kepada menjaga hak-hak seseorang itu. Ini termasuklah warisan tulisan yang dibenci penulis artikel ini.

    Saya berani meletakkan diri saya sebagai Melayu Moderate tapi tidak lah sampai membenci tulisan saya sendiri yang berusia beratus tahun lamanya. Saya berbangga bangsa saya juga mempunyai peradaban yang tidak kurang hebat. Adakah saya akan digelar “Ketuanan Melayu” oleh anda berdua? Saya berasa yakin anda berdua adalah pelajar yang membenci subjek sejarah semasa di sekolah dahulu. Kenapa begitu berani sekali mempersoal penggunaan tulisan jawi ini? Kalau begitu melulu mahukan hak samarata versi anda berdua jadikan sistem tulisan Roman sebagai tulisan tunggal di negara ini! Jadi semua orang akan menggunakan tulisan Roman sahaja, begitu kah? Tidakkah nanti kaum lain akan membantah? Jangan lah jadi kurang bijak pergilah belajar lagi ya?

    • Reza says:


      Saya dan Shanon dah jelaskan bahawa kami bukannya anti-Jawi. Kamu melalak seolah-olah kami meminta Jawi terus dibuang daripada budaya Melayu. Kami hanya tidak mahu Jawi digunakan di dalam konteks “billboard” kerana ia bukan sahaja tidak mendatangkan faedah tambahan kepada orang Melayu, kerana Melayu rumi sudah cukup memenuhi keperluan pengiklan, malah ia mengasingkan kaum lain.

      Jawi memang warisan kita dan patut dijaga. Tetapi kamu juga harus menerima hakikat bahawa Jawi tidak lagi digunakan sebanyak Melayu rumi. Lagipun, semua benda ada masa dan tempatnya. Hal penggunaan Jawi di dalam iklan bukan soal warisan budaya, tetapi adalah soal komunikasi yang berkesan, terbuka dan menyeluruh. Bukankah lebih berfaedah kepada pengiklan sekiranya iklan itu bukan sahaja difahami oleh orang Melayu, tetapi orang bukan Melayu juga?

  30. Shanon Shah says:

    Just to point out some argumentative flaws here, specifically with regards to the advocates of the Jawi signboards:

    1. The blanket accusation that critics of the billboards are anti-Jawi and ignorant of history. I think the wording in the article is clear enough. It’s not about being anti-Jawi. It’s about wondering aloud about the impact of the billboards, whether it alienates non-Jawi readers, and whether it is meant to have some sort of religious loading. The fact that it is promoted in PAS-ruled states (as opposed to a DAP-ruled or PKR-ruled state), and people’s refusal to tackle this angle, leaves this question unanswered. I myself read, write and enjoy Jawi. I wish more Malaysians could/would, if it were shorn of a religious/racial/political agenda. Because yes, it is definitely a heritage we should all be proud of.

    2. The question about whether it is hypocritical to be anti-Jawi but then not say anything about billboards/signs in Chinese/Tamil. This is a red herring. It does nothing to address the point raised in this article. It’s sort of saying, “Well, if *they* [pick ethnic/linguistic minority] can do it, why can’t *we*?” It’s not a very mature argument. If we were to take this debate into the realm of nation-building, then necessarily we need to address if Chinese-language/Tamil-language billboards also alienate non-Chinese and non-Tamil speakers. My feeling is yes, to an extent, they do. The question then is not about whether people should shut up about Jawi billboards, or whether we should also condemn Chinese and Tamil billboards. This is destructive debate. For constructive debate, we should ask ourselves how we can negotiate these linguistic, racial and religious diversities in order to build a coherent nation at ease with itself – not excluding anyone, but not compromising on each group’s diversity, ideally. How do we do this? The answer is not ready-made – it is a work in progress, and it goes hand in hand with the quest to build a true democracy which respects basic freedoms and liberties.

    3. The argument that criticising these billboards is pseudo-fascist and anti-diversity. This is just mere labeling, and it’s really a form of ad hominem. How is criticising these billboards anti-diversity? In fact, it is an interrogation that upholds the very core of diversity – would the PAS government allow for billboards which do not reflect its own party’s ideology, for example? Sure, it’s good to promote billboards which reflect tudung-wearing Muslim women, because that’s a big, important demographic in Malaysia right now. The article is very clear that this definitely is a thumbs up for diversity.

    Would PAS, however, be comfortable with a billboard that depicts, side by side, a Muslim woman wearing a tudung, a Muslim woman with hair uncovered, and other non-Muslim women, for example? Because, like it or not, that *is* the reality of Malaysia right now: Some Muslim women cover up by choice, some don’t, again by choice. Is PAS attempting to change this reality through public policy? If yes, why? Is it more “Islamic” to coerce a Muslim woman to wear a tudung (whether via explicit moral policing legislation, or via legislation on what can or cannot appear on a billboard), or is it better to allow each Muslim to figure out for themselves how best they want to express the faith?

    Using “diversity” as a means of defending these billboards necessarily entails opening up the debate as widely as possible. To all the defenders of “diversity” who have criticised the article, what are the limits of your interpretation of diversity? Do you support diversity of sexuality, for example? Would you want to arrest transsexual/gay/lesbian Muslims and whip them or punish them? Or would you exercise your freedom of expression to voice out your disgust with sexual minorities while allowing them the basic and constitutional right to exist as citizens without being persecuted? In the interest of diversity, would you simultaneously defend the rights of Hizbut Tahrir, the Wahhabis, PAS, Umno, Sisters in Islam, and other liberal Muslims, for example, to exist? After all, in the interest of diversity, shouldn’t all of these groups have the basic and constitutional right to express their views, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum of Islamist ideology?

    Again, these are follow-up questions to the issues raised in the article. I don’t claim to have authoritative answers to any of them. But I do err on the side of respecting all forms of diversity, and for upholding the tenets of a functioning democracy. One of these tenets is that just because the majority dislikes any particular minority, it does not give them the right to take away basic, constitutional rights of the minority.

    That’s about it for now.

    • Dr Syed Alwi says:

      Dear Shanon,

      I think Malaysia needs a national dialogue concerning Islam. You highlighted several issues which are controversial. Is Islam truly compatible with liberal democracy? Which brand of Islam anyway ? By the way, Islam Liberal is considered by Majlis Ulama Indonesia to be deviant. Agama sesat !

      If you follow PAS kind of thinking – well – you will get a very conservative brand of Islam governing Malaysia.

      The questions you pose cannot be answered without a serious dialogue. Unfortunately – a national dialogue on such a sensitive issue – cannot be held because it will lead to conflict. It might cause more harm than good.

      It will be a very long time before there can be a national dialogue.

      • Shanon Shah says:

        I have no disagreement with your reasoning, but you seem very defeatist. While admitting that a national dialogue is necessary, you dismiss that it could ever happen. But that is a speculative position, and it comes from a very disempowered mindset. Dialogue will happen when enough people want it. Enough people will want it when they recognise the importance of it. Enough people will recognise the importance of dialogue when they receive full and frank information of importance to their lives. And that is truly the purpose of journalism.

    • Dr Syed Alwi says:

      On another point Shanon,

      PAS intends to impose the Shariah. The Shariah of Islam leaves no doubt as to the fate of the LGBT community, the Islam Liberal followers etc etc. Without reform – the Shariah can be tough on many!

      • Shanon Shah says:

        Actually fiqh (syariah is not an accurate term to describe Islamic jurisprudence) has been quite nuanced on “LGBT” issues. Granted, Muslims in the pre-colonial era did not understand “LGBT” the way we do now. But there were discussions in the tafsirs and kitab kunings on inheritance rights of intersexed people, or those of indeterminate genders (something related to me by imam Feisal Abdul Rauf) and also on the kinds of physical same-sex relationships that were allowed that did *not* constitute liwat (as related once by Kiyai Muhammad Hussein from Indonesia).

        The problem is, this kind of information is shut out from both Muslims and non-Muslims now, so the kind of “Islam” that we see is, as you say, quite “tough on many”. My belief is that if we are given the freedom to actually read and analyse the sheer diversity and breadth of Islamic scholarship even from the earliest days of Islam, we will see that Muslims were in fact intelligent people trying to negotiate ethical ways for society to evolve. Different people had different opinions. Often, violence erupted and certain views were censored. Islam’s intellectual, jurisprudential and civilisational heritage is actually quite diverse, and I myself am cautious about making such sweeping statements on what the “syariah” says, as you seem very fond of doing.

        • Dr Syed Alwi says:

          Dear Shanon,

          Your views and the views you cite – are NOT mainstream. The majority of ulamas world-wide agree that LGBT is totally unacceptable to Islam. LGBT cannot be reconciled with mainstream Islam as defined by the majority view.

          Me – I simply follow the majority consensus or view. If you want an alternative view – you must work towards an ijma from among the leading Islamic ulamas and institutions world-wide. Failing which – you ought to abide by the majority view.

          • Shanon Shah says:

            Again, this mysterious “majority” you are so fond of quoting. A problem with the “majoritarian” argument is that if the majority supports a dangerous and wrong-headed idea, would you support it in the name of the majority? E.g. Hitler’s final solution for the Jews? The majority’s views in the public interest should prevail ONLY if the minorities are not unduly or unjustly silenced or persecuted for expressing dissent or for exercising their basic rights. As a demagogue for majoritarian “Islam”, you have ignored the fact that in many environments, a majoritarian “Islam” seeks to oppress and silence minorities, in the name of Islam. See Pakistan in its treatment of Ahmadiyah and Shias, see Iran in its treatment of Bahais, see Egypt in its treatment of Coptic Christians etc.

            Again, this is not a reflection on Islam, the religion, but political systems that appropriate Islam in order to justify injustice. But you have missed this point before, and I expect you’ll keep missing it for at least the 100 years that you are so fond of projecting.

          • Dr Syed Alwi says:

            Dear Shanon,

            Why don’t you ask Al-Azhar or Medina for their views? Why are you so stubborn in the face of Muslim rejection?

            Shanon – please list down the ulamas and Islamic institutions that permit the LGBT lifestyle? Who? How many?

            And based on what Quranic verse? Which Hadith?

            Shanon – you live in denial. I don’t. I am a realist and not some liberal living in the world of make belief.

    • Dr Syed Alwi says:

      Come to think of it Shanon, I seriously doubt that a Western style, liberal democracy is compatible with Islam. So while you rant about the Constitution and democratic rights – I’m not even sure if such things are compatible with Islam. You ask PAS – and they will say that the Quran and Hadith is the Constitution !

      What is there left to say? Have you considered migration to the West?

      • voster says:

        As you said yourself, which Islam? Which Islam is THE Islam, and is that compatible with a liberal democracy or not?

        • Dr Syed Alwi says:

          Dear voster,

          It might interest you to note that the Majlis Ulama Indonesia has labelled Islam Liberal a deviant sect. In other words, Islam Liberal is agama sesat!

          Personally – I do not think that mainstream Islam is compatible with a Western-style, liberal democracy. Because mainstream Islam has a completely different value-system. Personal freedom in Islam is limited; Islamic Syariah Laws does regulate individual morality.

      • Reza says:

        “Have you considered migration to the West?”

        I cannot speak for Shannon, but I can tell you that I have considered this many times and still do. Malaysia is just not friendly towards liberals. Unfortunately, getting residence overseas is not exactly a simple process. Also, there will be many things about Malaysia that I will miss: the tropical beaches, food, friends and relatives, etc. Furthermore, being foreigners in the West has its own set of obstacles and issues. The best thing I can hope for, right now, is to find and unite with other liberals in Malaysia, and from there, promote and expand the liberal movement in the country to fight back against religious fundamentalism and religious politics.

      • Shanon Shah says:

        That is your opinion, as a Singaporean Muslim who comments on Islam in Malaysia. However, I am interested again in the defeatist streak in your logic. You think “democratic rights” are incompatible with “Islam” (leaving aside that the debate is actually still ongoing and quite inconclusive at the moment). And then you ask if I want to migrate to the West? It is very strange logic, and I am left to wonder about the circumstances that make you resort to defeat and/or exclusion so easily.

        • Dr Syed Alwi says:

          Dear Shanon,

          In mainstream Islam, morality is NOT a matter of personal choice or personal freedom. Mainstream Islam has rules regarding personal morals, sexuality etc. The kind of democratic freedoms that you speak about – are NOT consistent with the tenets of mainstream Islam.

          And as far as Islam Liberal is concerned – it is NOT accepted by the majority of ulamas both here in Asean and elsewhere. Indeed Majlis Ulama Indonesia has labelled it as deviant – agama sesat.

          I have come to terms with the fact that mainstream Islam will not reform in the near future. Maybe in 100 years.

          • Shanon Shah says:

            What sweeping statements you make. What “majority” are you talking about? Does Majlis Ulama Indonesia constitute a “majority”? It does not. In fact, Indonesia once had a liberal Muslim as its PRESIDENT – the late Gus Dur. He, in turn, was the leader of the largest grassroots Muslim movement in the world. So, what “mainstream” Islam are you talking about? Again, unsubstantiated claims passed off as fact.

          • Dr Syed Alwi says:

            Dear Shanon,

            You go on living in denial. Indeed MUI came to Singapore and advised our Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura regarding the threat of Islam Liberal.

            Islam Liberal has been condemned by many ulamas world-wide. Maybe you might want to deny it for whatever motive you have – but the rest of the Muslim world will go on business-as-usual.

  31. Ashraf says:


    What is happening in Kedah is great. It shows that PR government allows a certain level of autonomy to its state governments. Let’s face it, Kedah and Penang are different and isn’t embracing differences what democracy is all about. Also, PAS isn’t pushing Jawi script in Penang, are they?

    Real democracy allows plurality to coexist as long as minorities’ right isn’t encroached. So why must an image in Kedah represent Malaysia as a nation? Why must every advertisement have a Malay, Chinese and Indian? And so why must state policy be the same throughout Malaysia when Kedah is different than Penang and definitely Sabah? And why are you so sure that PAS will have its way in say in Penang or Sabah if it gets federal power?

    I am all for greater autonomy because that is what federalism supposed to be. And if the Kedah majority really do not accept Jawi script, then they can vote PAS out next election, what’s the fuss?

  32. superbintoyon says:

    Oh now I am shocked.

    Honestly, I am from Kedah and i disagree with this kind of moral restrictions to be forced upon the people.

    But what I am really shocked by is the sensation that has emerged from the use of Jawi – a script apparently known only to Malays and thus it becomes alien in nature. It is obvious enough to me that it is weird to use a language that is not shared with all, moreover in the business sense.


    Why have Malaysians been quiet all along on the use of Chinese scripts on banners, shop signs, product labels, billboards and so on?
    These are produced by Malaysians, by the way! Is it not alienating in nature as well, Shannon?

    Seriously, I feel alienated. In my own country.

    Or you mean its not wrong because in these advertisements the women who are portrayed do not need to cover their head?

  33. Nasha Ali says:

    “There is nothing wrong with having Muslim women wearing tudung on billboards”. So what’s your fuss?

    “Jawi and tudung are not politically neutral”. Which political party is? Are Chinese scripts on most Chinese business premises?

    “DAP not too fussed”. Why are you?

    “Can we predict what a PR-led Malaysia might look like”? Stop looking only through xenophobic, Islamophobic and racist eyes.

    “For Malaysians who don’t read Jawi, the signboard would be quite alienating.” Spare a thought for Chinese and Tamil signboards… and learn Jawi?

    “Vote for a better Malaysia”. You mean better is secular and with no traces of Melayu?


  34. palladio says:

    Artikel ini dan jawapan-jawapan penulis artikel ini langsung tidak membantu dalam memberi pemahaman kepada bukan Melayu dalam isu tulisan Jawi. Malah menyemarakkan lagi perasaan saling mencurigai sesama kaum di negara ini. YOU’RE NOT HELPING, SHANON!

    Shanon Shah mengatakan beliau:
    “I am a practising Muslim who loves Islam too much to let it be hijacked by political parties and interest groups, and my conscience as a Muslim dictates that I speak up accordingly. At the same time, I am a citizen of a plural society, and respect my fellow citizens too much to keep quiet over issues I feel are important to them, too.”

    Ternyata kata-kata beliau diatas adalah diragui, bagaimana seorang Muslim boleh berkata begini? Muslim memang menghormati hak kaum lain! Tapi bukan dengan menidakkan apa yang memberi kebaikan kepada Muslim itu sendiri.

    Kerajaan negeri Kedah jauh sekali bukanlah seperti rejim komunis-sosialis yang penuh dengan propaganda poster-poster yang beria-ia beretorik tentang hak sivil dan moral. Tapi sebenarnya merekalah yang paling teruk dalam sejarah peradaban manusia. Tulisan anda tidak membantu, Shanon!

  35. palladio says:

    Artikel ini benar-benar membuat saya tidak mahu berkunjung ke blog ini lagi dan mungkin kamu tak kisah pun. Ternyata kalian benar-benar tidak membantu dalam perjuangan Pakatan, hanya menghentam dengan membuta tuli tanpa asas yang relevan. Saya semakin benci dengan kelompok liberalis ini yang konon-kononnya pandai, moden dan terpelajar tapi sebenarnya jahil dan bodoh. Langsung tidak menghormati kepercayaan orang lain dan sombong. Percayalah jangan berangan nak ke Putrajaya kalau golongan anda ini masih sibuk mencari hal remeh temeh ni. Kalau macam ni memang susah la… Shanon Shah, kamu harus ingat siapakah majoriti di negara ini… Kita belum bersedia untuk menjadi Amerika…ingat!

  36. junior says:

    I don’t think it is a problem as Jawi is the actual ‘letters’ of the Malay language. Jawi is not present in Arab. Malay language is used in ABC [because of British influence] and hence, the Malay language is written in a better form to let the British know how to pronounce it. Ok, basically it’s like that. Or would Malays like it better if I say the Malay language had been ‘English-ized’ by the British?

    Read the history and get your facts right. If this writer is a practising Muslim, he should know that the Quran was never written in Jawi. Arab and and Jawi are two different things. They are similar but if you ask tok syeikh arab even they get confused on how to read Jawi but Malays, no problem with Jawi, but [to read the] Quran, problem ma (sometimes). Because Jawi is actually the Malay language. At least know your own history, la.

  37. Yee says:

    We are living in a multicultural society: Roman alphabets, Chinese scripts, Tamil letters, Jawi writing, just bring them on. Shanon’s main point is not about Jawi script and Muslim women in headscarves on billboards, but about the Kedah state government’s willingness to allow exceptions like these to happen.

    I fully support an open-minded and liberal multicultural Malaysia in which there are equal spaces for everybody to flourish, in contrast to dominance of a particular race and/or religion.

  38. JayCKat says:

    Does this mean the end of Bahasa Melayu being written in Latin script?

    Will we be changing to Arabic script?

    • frank peter says:

      It was already written in Arabic script before it was changed to Roman alphabets. It’s nothing new really.

      • JayCKat says:

        Yes, originally, but Tunku Abdul Rahman had it changed from Jawi to Latin letters. Malaysians have been taught [the Malay language] using Latin letters for over 40 years.

        Does this signal a change? Unless I am mistaken, Malay is the national language. If people start rending the national language in Arabic script, should all Malaysian need to be able to read it?

        This would signal a change and the education system needs to keep up.

  39. frank peter says:

    We have ads written in Chinese and Tamil scripts so what’s the deal with Jawi script billboards? It’s not like they forgot to include the Roman letters version anyway. Who says Jawi is synonymous with Islam? Can you say Arabic language is the language of Islam then? I bet the Christian Arabs would love to disagree with this statement. It’s not like writing Malay in Jawi is something new. Malays have been using Jawi long before the Roman letters came by. One more thing, I don’t get why some people here always think being Muslim means being Malay and vice versa. My grandfather is a Muslim convert. Can’t other races be Muslims too?

    • Yee says:

      Shanon’s point is not about Jawi scripts or Muslim women clad in headscarf on advertisement billboards, but rather the Kedah state government’s willingness to allow exceptions of its rather conservative rules eg: Muslim women not wearing headscarf. I personally have no qualms with Jawi scripts either. We are living in a multiracial country, and this is just another sign of it, as with Chinese and Tamil scripts. I believe advertisers have every right to put on whatever language they prefer on the billboards.

      • Reza says:

        “I believe advertisers have every right to put on whatever language they prefer on the billboards.”

        I agree. But that is not the case here. The government is forcing advertisers to put ads in Jawi. Thats is what Shanon is arguing against. It is not the choice of the advertisers.

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