A Malaysian appeal court has ruled that non-Muslims may not use the word “Allah” to refer to God.
The decision overturns a 2009 lower court ruling, which sparked religious tensions and led to attacks on churches and mosques.
It came after the government insisted Catholic newspaper The Herald, could not use the word in its Malay-language edition to describe the Christian God, the BBC reports.
The paper sued, with the courts ruling in its favour in December 2009. The government followed with an appeal, which was unanimously upheld on Monday.
Justice Mohamed Apandi, one of a panel of three judges read a brief summary, reported by Malaysia’s The Star.
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"Our common finding is that the usage of Allah is not an integral part of the Christian faith. We cannot find why the parties are so adamant on the usage of the word," he said.
The full text of the judgement can be read here, on the Malaysian Insider.
In its reasons for launching the action, the Malaysian government claimed the use of the word “Allah” should be exclusively reserved for Muslims owing to concerns its use by other faiths could confuse Muslims and be used to convert them.
The Jakarta Post points out Malaysia’s Christian, Buddhist and Hindu minorities have often complained the government infringes their constitutional rights to practice religion freely.
It adds that Roman Catholic representatives say the ban is unreasonable because Christians who speak Malay have used “Allah” in their bibles, literature and songs, long before authorities sought to curb it.
Reverend Lawrence Andrew, the editor of The Herald, said he was “disappointed and dismayed” at the ruling and that he would appeal the decision.
He added: “It is a retrograde step in the development of law in relation to the fundamental liberty of religious minorities.”