Christians and other non-Muslims in Malaysia have been banned from using the word “Allah” to refer to God in their publications. A battle that lasted seven years and ignited protests across the country came to an end when Malaysia’s highest court upheld a ruling Monday that denied a Catholic newspaper’s right to use the Arabic word for “God,” Time reports.
A seven-judge panel ruled a lower court decision, saying that if the Court of Appeals applied the “correct test," it is not open for them to interfere. Their decision was met with shouts of “Allahu Akbar,” which means “God is great,” by hundreds of Muslim activists who had camped outside the court, reports Al Jazeera.
In 2007, the Catholic newspaper The Herald used the word “Allah” in its Malay-language edition, which resulted in the publication having its publishing permit threatened. Muslims who opposed their use of the word said they feared it would encourage Muslims to convert, which would “threaten national security” and is a crime in the Southeast Asian nation.
But Christians in the Muslim-dominated country argued that the word “Allah” has been used for centuries in Malay-language Bibles to refer to the Christian God and that they had every right to use it in their publication. Following the ban on the word, Malaysian Christian churches were threatened with attacks and Islamic authorities reportedly rounded up Bibles that contained the word “Allah.”
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S. Selvarajah, a lawyer for the Church, called it a “blanket ban” and said his team was going to explore new ways to challenge it, according to The Guardian.
Father Lawrence Andrew, the editor of The Herald, echoed minority religious groups’ concern that rising Islamization was threatening their rights. “We are greatly disappointed by this judgment,” Andrew said.
Speaking on behalf of the Muslim rights group Perkasa, Ibrahim Ali said, “We must defend ‘Allah’ because this is our religious obligation. I hope other communities, including Christians, understand this.”