Malaysia’s top court dismissed a final bid by the Catholic Church to use the word ‘Allah’ in its ‘Herald’ newspaper, highlighting a debate on non-Muslims using the word in a climate of rising religious tensions.
Malaysia’s Home Ministry first banned the Herald’s use of the word “Allah” in its Malay-language editions in 2008, saying use of the Arabic word may offend Muslims who make up more than 60% of Malaysia’s 30 million population. This prompted a long legal battle, with appeals and federal courts successively overturning a 2009 ruling by the high court.
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While the ruling only applies to one newspaper, it risks creating friction over religious rights and ethnic tolerance in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation that has a sizable Chinese and Indian minority. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s party, which has ruled since independence in 1957, has brought in policies to shore up support with its ethnic Malay Muslim base since its worst-ever showing in the 2013 election.