Non-Muslims cannot refer to God as 'Allah' in Malaysia, high court rules

A Christian devotee prays at a church in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Jan. 8, 2010. Three churches in Malaysia were attacked with firebombs, causing extensive damage to one, as Muslims pledged Friday to prevent Christians from using the word "Allah," escalating religious tensions in the multiracial country. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)AP

Malaysia's highest court ruled Monday that non-Muslims cannot use the name "Allah" to describe God.

The court dismissed the Malaysian Catholic Church's position that the name has been used for centuries in Christian literature published in the Malay-language.

Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria said that the lower appeals court ruled correctly.

"It is not open for us to interfere," he said in the decision. "Hence, the application is dismissed."

Church lawyer S. Selvarajah expressed the finality of the ruling.

"It's a blanket ban," he told Agence France-Presse (AFP). "Non-Muslims cannot use the word. It has a major impact."

The dispute began in 2007, when the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs threatened to shut down the Catholic Church's Herald newsletter for using the name. The government officials claimed that the use of "Allah" in a Christian publication may confuse the country's Muslims, and cause them to convert to Christianity.

The Church won a 2009 decision, which led to widespread protests. Three churches in Kuala Lumpur were barraged with firebombs.

In October 2013, the ban against "Allah" in Christian writings was reinstated. That decision was upheld today, and was met with celebrations from the population – which is majority Muslim.

"I'm very pleased and happy that we have won the case," Ibrahim Ali, a Muslim rights activist, told AFP.

"We must defend 'Allah' because this is our religious obligation. I hope other communities, including Christians, understand this.

"I hope the issue will be put to rest."

In January, officials seized over 300 Bibles from a Malaysian Christian group because they contained the name "Allah." This time, however, experts say there are unlikely to be raids.

"The idea is to use this as a political weapon to raise tensions," Monash University political science professor James Chin told AFP. Monash has campuses in Malaysia.

"[The ruling party feels] that this is a vote-winner for the next election."