Q. What’s in a name?

A. More than I’d have thought.

Or maybe I should not be surprised, given the caning episode. (How did that go down, by the way?) In Malaysia, four Christian churches in three days have been firebombed as protest against a Catholic newspaper’s use of the word “Allah, ” and the court system’s support of that usage. CNN reports that Muslims believe non-Muslims should not use the word at all. Here’s where I get bewildered and need your help:

  1. Does that apply to all Muslims? Or maybe just some of the fundamentalists? Is there a Koran directive or commandment or documentable dogma for this, or is CNN generalizing here?
  2. According to Wikipedia, that word is used by Arabic-speakers in general, and that is the word used for God. Non-muslim speakers of Arabic, wherever you are, do you face your Muslim neighbors’ wrath for using the word?
  3. So, what are the odds that I’d accidentally offend a Muslim, perhaps while on vacation in Malaysia (sure looks nice, Truly Asia and all) talking about God (not that I do that much, except in a historical, philosophical, or cultural context)? Or be misunderstood, talking about something that sounds like “Allah”? (Challah, Valhalla, Lalala, Margot‘s chow Nala, Alexei Lalas, the list goes on…)
  4. The Tourism Malaysia e-brochure on customs and etiquette has lots of tips about Malaysian culture — particularly interesting was the section on naming conventions on page 2 — and useful contact information, but sadly no hints for what to do if you should find yourself in a church on fire.