A Malaysian appeals court ruled that only Muslims will be allowed to use the word Allah when referring to God. The word Allah, which is Arabic for “God,” has long been used by Catholics in Malaysia when referencing God (this is true of non-Muslims in many Middle Eastern countries as well). The current ruling comes after almost five years of the initial ban.

In 2008, the Malaysian interior ministry banned the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims, citing “public order.”  In 2009, a lower court overturned the ruling, which lead to rioting by Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the country. The recent ruling was decided by a panel of three Muslim judges. 

The challenge to the 2008 ban was brought by the Roman Catholic Church of Malaysia, which uses “Allah” in their weekly, Malay-language newspaper. They plan to appeal the decision to the Malaysian Supreme Court, citing the ruling threatens the civil rights of non-Muslim minorities in Malaysia.

Critics argue one reason for ban of “Allah” is to increase support for Muslim political groups who continue to lose political support, as evident in the last elections.

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