Putrajaya, Malaysia — A Malaysian appeals court has ruled that non-Muslims cannot use the word “Allah” to refer to God, upholding a government ban against the practice, reported the Associated Press.
Monday’s court decision overturned a 2009 lower court ruling and the claims of Christian groups in the country that the ban violates their religious rights.
Chief Judge Mohammad Apandi Ali stated that the “The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity”.
“It is our judgment that there is no infringement of any constitutional rights” in the ban, he said, adding that “The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community”.
Christians argue that they have used the word in Malay for decades and that the ruling violates their rights.
After the 2009 ruling, religious tensions were ignited and dozens of churches and mosques were attacked and burned.
The government had said that a Catholic newspaper, The Herald, could not use “Allah” in its Malay-language edition to refer to the Christian God.
The newspaper sued, and the lower court ruled in their favor in December 2009, saying the word was not the exclusive right of Muslims. The government appealed the decision.
The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Catholic newspaper, said “We are greatly disappointed and dismayed,” and plans to appeal Monday’s verdict in Malaysia’s Federal Court, according to the AP report.
He added that “This is unrealistic. It is a retrograde step in the development of law in relation to the fundamental liberty of religious minorities.”
Some observers fear that a ruling in the government’s favor could result in “Allah” being removed from Bibles, according to reports.
Muslims make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s population, while some nine percent are Christians.
Some Muslim groups have argued that the Christian use of the term “Allah” could be used to convert Muslims to Christianity.
Muslim scholars outside Malaysia are baffled by the case, because the use of the word Allah by Christians is not controversial, reported the BBC from outside the Malaysian courtroom.
Some observers believe the government is using the case to boost its Islamic credentials among voters.