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Top Malaysian Court Upholds Ruling On Who Can Use 'Allah'

Malaysia's highest court agrees with him.
Shamshahrin Shamsudin
Malaysia's highest court agrees with him.

Malaysia's highest court has upheld a ruling by a lower court that non-Muslims cannot use the word "Allah" as a synonym for God. But the scope of Monday's decision by the Federal Court of Malaysia was unclear because the government issued a statement that said the ruling applied only to the Catholic newspaper that brought the case.

Last year, the country's Court of Appeals banned The Herald newspaper from using the word "Allah." The newspaper appealed, but the highest court said Monday that it won't hear the challenge, leaving in place the lower court ruling.

"We are disappointed," said the Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of The Herald. "The four judges who denied us the right to appeal did not touch on fundamental basic rights of minorities."

His comments were reported by The Associated Press.

But the country's government issued a statement that appeared to leave open the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims.

"The Government respects the decision of the court and asks all parties to abide by it," the statement read. "The ruling only applies to the Herald newspaper's use of the word 'Allah.' Malaysian Christians can still use the word 'Allah' in Church. ... Malaysia is a multi-faith country and it is important that we manage our differences peacefully, in accordance with the rule of law and through dialogue, mutual respect and compromise."

Muslims are nearly 70 percent of Malaysia's population, but non-Muslims — including Christians and Hindus — have long used the word "Allah" to describe God. Some groups said they would continue to do so.

"The Christian community continues to have the right to use the word 'Allah' in our Bibles, church services and Christian gatherings in our on-going ministry to our Bahasa Malaysia-speaking congregations, as we have done all this while," Eu Hong Seng, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, said in a statement.

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Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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