A Malaysian court has ruled that non-Muslims cannot use the word Allah to refer to God, even in their own faiths, overturning a 2009 lower court ruling.
The appeals court said the term Allah must be exclusive to Islam or it could cause public disorder.
People of all faiths use the word Allah in Malay to refer to their Gods.
Christians argue they have used the word, which entered Malay from Arabic, to refer to their God for centuries and that the ruling violates their rights.
One Malaysian Christian woman said the ruling would affect the community greatly.
“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 from Sabah state told the BBC.
‘Disappointed and dismayed’
The 2009 ruling sparked tensions, with churches and mosques attacked.
It came after the government said that a Catholic newspaper, The Herald, could not use the word in its Malay-language edition to describe the Christian God.
The newspaper sued, and a court ruled in their favour in December 2009. The government then launched an appeal.
Upholding the appeal on Monday, chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali said: “The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity. The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community.”
The Herald editor Reverend Lawrence Andrew said he was “disappointed and dismayed”, and would appeal against the decision.
“It is a retrograde step in the development of law in relation to the fundamental liberty of religious minorities,” he said.
The newspaper’s supporters have argued that Malay-language Bibles have used Allah to refer to the Christian God since before Malaysia was formed as a federal state in 1963.
“Allah is a term in the Middle East and in Indonesia it is a term both for Christians and Muslims. 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.”