Malaysia’s Top Court Upholds Verdict Banning Use of ‘Allah’ by Christians
Malaysia’s Top Court Upholds Verdict Banning Use of ‘Allah’ by ChristiansReuters

The highest court in Malaysia has dismissed a petition by Christians to uphold the right to use the word "Allah" for referring to God, marking the end of a long legal battle in the Muslim majority country.

A seven-judge panel of the court upheld a lower court decision last year which ratified the government's position that the use of "Allah" by non-Muslims would cause confusion.

"It (the Court of Appeal) applied the correct test, and it is not open for us to interfere ... By a majority of four to three, the leave application is dismissed," chief justice Arifin Zakaria said, AFP reported.

In October last year, an appeal court had thrown out the Catholic newspaper Herald's plea for the right to use "Allah" by non-Muslims.

"It is our common finding that the usage of the name 'Allah' is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity," the court had decreed.

The appeal court verdict followed a 2009 court order that lifted the ban on Christians to use the word to describe the Christian God. The lifting of the ban had sparked a series of attacks in early 2010 on churches with Molotov cocktails, rocks and paint.

The controversy over the word "Allah" goes back to 2008 when The Herald, a Catholic weekly, was barred by the home ministry from using the Arabic word.

The Catholic Church argued that it has used the word to refer to God for centuries and that the home ministry's ruling violated the believers' rights.

Christian groups said they were disappointed by the verdict.

S Selvarajah, a lawyer for the group, said they would look for other ways to challenge the ban. "It's a blanket ban. Non-Muslims cannot use the word. It has a major impact," he told AFP.

Father Lawrence Andrew, the editor of Herald, said the judgement "didn't touch on the fundamental rights of minorities".

"Allah is a term in the Middle East and in Indonesia it is a term both for Christians and Muslims. You cannot say that all of the sudden it is not an integral part. Malay language is a language that has many borrowed words, Allah also is a borrowed word," Andrew had said earlier.

In January, Malaysian Islamic authorities had seized more than 300 copies of the Bible from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), over the use of the word "Allah" in native translations.

Muslims account for 60% of the country's 28 million people, while Christians constitute about 9%.