Apart from Allah, why is the word “Tuhan” exclusive for Muslims too?

By Uthaya Sankar


WHILE the Tamil community are still arguing on the actual date for the Tamil New Year (January or April), the “keling” issue is still ongoing, and the polemic over the use of “Allah” is unsettled, it seems there are “silent” movements on the move, undermining the religious rights of non-Muslims in Malaysia.

This became clear when I was reading Meredah Kabus (2021), an anthology of Bahasa Malaysia short stories published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), recently.

I was saddened and shocked to notice that every time a non-Malay (non-Muslim) mentions “Tuhan” (God), it is printed as “tuhan” (god).

For Muslims
For non-Muslims


Here are several other examples:

  • Mala juga sentiasa diingatkan untuk berdoa dan berterima kasih kepada tuhan. (page 10)
  • Semoga tuhan melindungi John daripada sebarang bencana. (page 63)
  • Dengan keizinan tuhan, Sangeetha dipertemukan dengan Madam Ivy. (page 223)
  • Letchumi sempat berdoa agar dirinya dilindungi tuhan. (page 231)
  • Inilah balasan tuhan terhadap dosa yang aku telah lakukan terhadap kalian. (page 236)
  • Oh, tuhanku! (page 251)
  • Dalam hal Zohra, dia bertambah yakin dengan kuasa tuhan dan karma. (page 323)

What in the world is DBP thinking?

Appalled by this, I contacted a few writers and they confirmed that in their original manuscript, they wrote “Tuhan” but it has been changed to “tuhan” in print.

Personally, I have faced a similar situation when I was appointed one of the panels to amend the student edition of the Interlok novel back in 2011.

Among others, on behalf of Kumpulan Sasterawan Kavyan (Kavyan Writers’ Group) requested and demanded “tuhan” in the student edition of Interlok (2010) to appear as “Tuhan” in the reprint.

For the record, in Datuk Abdullah Hussain’s original version, “Tuhan” is used. But when it was republished as a student edition, every time a non-Muslim character is involved, “Tuhan” has been changed to “tuhan”. If the character is a Malay-Muslim, “Tuhan” is used.

When this issue was highlighted in 2011, some panel members told me bluntly that if I wanted to use “Tuhan” when it comes to non-Muslims, I had to refer the matter to the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim).

Now, it is clear to me that not only “Allah” is deemed exclusive for the Muslims. There is a movement to ensure “Tuhan” (capital) is also exclusively theirs. It seems “Tuhan” can only be used for “Allah”.

I see this as a subversive movement to insult and deny the religious rights of the non-Muslims. This clearly goes against Article 11 of the Federal Constitution which allows religious freedom.

A quick check of my books, Orang Dimensi (1994), Siru Kambam (1996), and Surat Dari Madras (1999) published by DBP shows that “Tuhan” is allowed to be used. But the unwritten rules seem to have changed gradually.

The public, which have been very open and vocal about the recent “keling” term used in the Kamus Dewan seem to be unaware about this subversive movement to humiliate, degrade and deny the right of the non-Muslims to use “Tuhan” for God.

For everyone’s note, there is only a single entry for “Tuhan” in Kamus Pelajar (1988). But in Kamus Dewan (2005) and Kamus Dewan Perdana (2020), there are different definitions for “Tuhan” and “tuhan”.

Here is what they say:

  • Tuhan” seem to refer exclusively to Allah, whereas “tuhan” refers to “something worshipped by people whose religion or belief is not based on the One God” (“sesuatu yang dipuja oleh golongan manusia yang agama atau kepercayaan mereka tidak berasaskan kepercayaan kepada Tuhan Yang Esa”).

The very first principle of the Rukun Negara is “Belief in God”. Does “Tuhan” in Rukun Negara, which was introduced in 1970 to unite the nation, refer solely and exclusively to “Allah”?

As a Hindu, I would like to stress that Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma) acknowledges One God under the Eka Aneka concept. Anyone who doubts this fact should read the Vedas and Bhagavad Gita. In Sikhism too, Waheguru is the One God.

Therefore, I strongly object and will not give in to any party trying to belittle the Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists etc. It is unconstitutional to say that the non-Muslims are allowed to use “Tuhan” only if they worship the Muslim God, “Allah”.

Bahasa Malaysia as the national language belongs to every Malaysian. Therefore, it would be unfair for anyone to say that all Malay words in Kamus Dewan and Kamus Dewan Perdana has to be seen from the Malay-Muslim perspective.

If that is the case, non-Malays and non-Muslims might as well be fully banned for using the language.

As for the use of “tuhan” in Meredah Kabus and other books, I look forward to an unbiased response from DBP. Meanwhile, I urge the general public – especially non-Muslims – to come forward and voice out their concern about similar issues. Silence could be perceived as agreeing to adhere to everything; including the right to use “Tuhan” in one’s own religion. – April 17, 2021.


Uthaya Sankar is the founder of Kavyan Writers’ Group.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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