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 the appeals court overturned a 2009 ruling by a lower court that allowed the Malay-language version of the 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. “The word will cause confusion in the community.”
The decision coincides with heightened ethnic and religious tension in Malaysia after a May election, in which the long-ruling coalition was deserted by urban voters who included a large section of minority ethnic Chinese.
In recent months, Prime Minister Najib Razak has sought to consolidate his support among majority ethnic Malays, who are Muslim by law, and secure the backing of traditionalists ahead of a ruling party assembly this month. His new government has introduced steps to boost a decades-old affirmative action policy for ethnic Malays.