Sophie Brown, CNN
Malaysia’s highest court has rejected a challenge from the Catholic Church seeking to overturn a ban on non-Muslims using the word “Allah” to refer to God.
But after the Federal Court announced its verdict on Monday, the government released a statement saying that the ruling would only apply to the Church’s newspaper, which has been at the center of the court battle since Malaysian authorities ordered the publication to cease using the Arabic word in 2007.
Malaysian Christians will still be able to use the word “Allah” in church, the government’s statement said.
“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,” the statement said.
The conflicting interpretations of the ban have only added confusion to a debate that has inflamed religious tensions in the Muslim-majority country in recent years.
The editor of the the newspaper, the Herald, said it remains unclear what the implications of the court’s verdict would be for the Christian community.
“We are in limbo,” Father Lawrence Andrew told CNN.
But the chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, Reverend Eu Hong Seng, said in a statement that Christians will continue to use the word “Allah” in bibles and during church gatherings.
The dispute began in 2007 when the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs, which grants publishing licenses, threatened to withdraw the Herald’s permit for using the Arabic word in its Malay-language edition, on the grounds of national security and public order.
Malaysian authorities say non-Muslim literature that contains the word could confuse Muslims and cause them to convert away from Islam, which is a crime in many parts of the country.
Christian leaders argue that the word “Allah” predates Islam, and has long been used in Malay-language bibles and other texts to refer to God.