A Malaysian court ruled yesterday that a Christian newspaper may not use the word “Allah” to refer to God, a landmark decision on an issue that has fanned religious tension and raised questions over minority rights in the mainly Muslim country.
The unanimous decision by three Muslim judges in Malaysia’s appeals court overturned a 2009 ruling by a lower court that allowed the Malay-language version of newspaper the Herald to use the word Allah — as many Christians in Malaysia say has been the case for centuries.
“The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity,” chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali said in the ruling. “The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community.”
The decision coincides with heightened ethnic and religious tensions after a polarizing May election, in which the long-ruling coalition was deserted by urban voters that included a large section of minority ethnic Chinese.
The government argued that the word Allah is specific to Muslims and that the then-home minister’s decision in 2008 to deny the newspaper permission to print it was justified on the basis of public order.
About 200 Muslims outside the court in the administrative capital Putrajaya, greeted the decision with shouts of Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest).
Lawyers for the Catholic paper say they will appeal.