The government Monday appealed a court’s decision to overturn a decades-old official ban and allow Christians to use “Allah” to refer to God.
The word has long been divisive in multi-ethnic Malaysia, with Christians complaining that attempts to stop them using it highlight the growing influence of conservative Islam.
But some Muslims accuse the sizeable Christian minority of overstepping boundaries, and the subject has fuelled religious tensions and sparked violence over the years.
Last week the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that Christians can use “Allah” in publications, siding with a member of the minority and striking down a ban that dated back to 1986.
A judge ruled the ban was unconstitutional, as the constitution guarantees freedom of religion.
But the government lodged a challenge at the Court of Appeal saying it was “not satisfied” with the ruling, according to documents seen by AFP.
Authorities have long argued that allowing non-Muslims to use “Allah” could be confusing, and entice Muslims to convert.
The case began 13 years ago when officials seized religious materials in the local Malay language from a Christian at Kuala Lumpur airport that contained the word “Allah”.
The woman – Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, a member of an indigenous group – then launched a legal challenge against the ban on Christians using the term.
Malaysia has largely avoided overt religious conflict in recent decades, but tensions have been growing.
In 2014 a church was hit with petrol bombs, while Islamic authorities have seized Bibles containing the word “Allah”.
Less than 10% of Malaysia’s 32 million people are estimated to be Christians, coming from mostly ethnic Chinese, Indian or indigenous backgrounds, while 60% are ethnically Malay Muslims.