Malaysia's highest court has upheld a 2007 ban that prohibits the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims amid challenges and appeals by the Malaysian Catholic Church.
The ban was introduced in 2007 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the publishing permit of the Church's Herald newspaper for using the word "Allah" as a translation of "God" in its Malay-language version. The ensuing court case established a "blanket ban" on the use of the word by non-Muslims, amid concerns that allowing individuals of other (or no) faiths to use "Allah" as a synonym for "God" or "deity" would confuse Muslims and sway them to convert, which is a crime in Malaysia.
The Church and other opponents of the law contend that "Allah" has been used by people of all faiths in Malaysia to refer to their deity, and has a history of use in non-Muslim literature stretching centuries into the past.
When the ban was briefly overturned following a 2009 appeals court ruling, a number of Christian Churches were attacked with firebombs, and in January an Islamic group seized and destroyed several hundred bibles containing the word that belonged to a Christian community. Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Malay-language Herald, worried that the ruling "didn't touch on the fundamental rights of minorities", while Ibrahim Ali, head of Muslim-rights group Perkasa, said "I'm very pleased and happy that we have won the case...We must defend 'Allah' because this is our religious obligation. I hope other communities, including Christians, understand this."
Over 60% of the Malaysian population are Muslim ethnic Malay, the majority demographic, while just under 10% are Christian, mostly belonging to Chinese, Indian, or Indigenous ethnic groups. Malaysia's constitution promises freedom of worship to all faiths.