If a Malaysian High Court ruling stands, Roman Catholics here can resume using the word “Allah” as their translation for God in their local language: the court on New Year’s Eve overturned a three-year-old government ban that prevented the Catholic Church from using the term Allah in its literature. The Arabic word has been used by various faiths in this Muslim-majority nation for centuries, and the church argues that it is the only suitable way to denote God in the Malay language.
The linguistic dispute over the word Allah comes amid a flurry of other controversies that have convinced many Malaysians that their country is adopting an increasingly politicized interpretation of Islam. Some analysts fear it could eventually turn off international investors. In recent months, a Muslim Shariah court sentenced a woman who ordered a beer in a hotel bar to be caned, while a group of Muslim men desecrated the proposed location of a Hindu temple near Kuala Lumpur by tossing a severed cow’s head onto the site as police stood aside.