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Malaysia court bans use of word 'Allah' by Christian newspaper

An appeals court in Malaysia has banned a Christian newspaper from using the word "Allah" to refer to God. The newspaper has called the ruling unconstitutional and has vowed to take the case to the federal court.

A panel of three judges ruled on Monday that the Roman Catholic daily newspaper The Herald can no longer use the term "Allah" to refer to God, arguing that the Arabic word may be used only by Muslims.

"We could find no reason why the [Catholic newspaper] is so adamant to use the word 'Allah' in their weekly," Judge Ali said, adding that the appeals court's had found that the use of that term was "not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity."

The legal dispute stems from a previous government ban on The Herald from using the term. The daily had taken its case to court, arguing the ban was unconstitutional, and subsequently won an appeal in 2009. However, the court's decision to override the government sparked unrest in Malaysia, with some opponents of the ruling setting fire to and vandalizing Christian churches.

Ruling overlooks history

The Roman Catholic daily reiterated its previous criticism of the ban on Monday, arguing that the term "Allah" has been the common term for God in the Malay language for centuries and should not pose a problem to Muslims.

"We are greatly disappointed and dismayed," Herald editor Rev. Lawrence Andrew said, adding that the publishers would seek an appeal with the Malaysian Federal Court.

"This is unrealistic. It is a retrograde step in the development of law in relation to the fundamental liberty of religious minorities," Rev. Andrew said.

Muslims comprise roughly 60 percent of the ethnically and religiously diverse country's population, while Buddhists account for about 19 percent and Christians roughly 10 percent. Approximately 50 percent of Malaysians come from the ethnic Malay community, and a further 23 percent from the ethnic Chinese community.

kms/tj (AP, AFP, Reuters)