Some experts believe the Allah issue is an attempt by Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling Malay party to strengthen its conservative Muslim voter base. Religion has become an easy tool because government policies have made Islam and Malay identity inseparable.
"This is a situation that is peculiar to Malaysia. It is tied to politics and the identity of Malays. It is a bending of the interpretation of Islam to suit Malay politics and Malay interests," said Ibrahim Suffian, who heads the Merdeka Center opinion research company.
The issue hasn't surfaced in other majority Muslim nations with sizeable Christian minorities.
In Egypt, where about 10 percent of the population is Christian, both Muslims and Christians refer to God as "Allah," and this hasn't generated any controversy or antagonism. Christians often refer to God as "al-Rab" in their liturgy, but use "Allah" more frequently in their daily life.
The same is true for Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation. Both groups use "Allah" — although Christians pronounce it "Al-lah" and Muslims say "Al-loh," so you can tell which religion the speaker is — but this hasn't caused friction.
"My question is, if in other countries, 'Allah' as a term for God is not made exclusive, I am surprised how come the use of the term can be limited by any religion elsewhere in the world," said Fr. Francis Lucas, president of the Catholic Media Network Corp., the broadcast arm of the Catholic Church in the Philippines.
Associated Press Writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Jim Gomez in Manila, Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Amir Bibawy in New York and Malcolm Foster in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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