A Malaysian court made a unanimous decision Monday to ban anyone from using the word “Allah” to refer to God, even in their own faith, if they are not Muslim.
A Catholic newspaper, The Herald, nearly lost its publishing license over its use of the word as translation for God. In 2009, a lower court ruled that the ban infringes on the publisher’s constitutional rights. Monday the high court overturned that ruling, and The Herald is once again prohibited from printing “Allah.”
The newspaper’s editor, Rev. Lawrence Andrew, said he was "disappointed and dismayed" at the ruling.
"It is a retrograde step in the development of law in relation to the fundamental liberty of religious minorities," Andrew said.
The court and the Malaysian government agree that using the term when not exclusive to Islam is cause for public disorder, according to the BBC.
"The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity,” said chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali. “The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community."
Malay Muslims make up nearly two-thirds of the population.
Christians claim they’ve used the word to refer to their God for centuries. They argued that Malay-language Bibles have used the term Allah to refer to God since before Malaysia became a federal state in 1963.
"If we are prohibited from using the word Allah then we have to re-translate the whole Bible, if it comes to that," Ester Moiji told the BBC.
"Allah is a term in the Middle East and in Indonesia it is a term both for Christians and Muslims,” said Andrew. “You cannot say that in 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."
Opponents argue that it is not a Malay word and that Chrisians should be translating God to something else.
"Allah is not a Malay word. If they [non-Muslims] say they want to use a Malay word they should use Tuhan instead of Allah," Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar, an attorney for the government, told BBC.
After the 2009 ruling dozens or churches and several Muslim prayer halls were attacked and burned.