A Malaysian high court ruled Monday that only Muslims can use the word “Allah” to refer to God, despite the fact that many Malaysian Christians also call God by that name.
The decision overturned a 2009 ruling that Christians could also refer to God as “Allah,” BBC reports. That lawsuit was brought by a Catholic newspaper. Following the 2009 decision, dozens of churches and mosques were vandalized and destroyed.
The government appealed the 2009 decision and won. In handing down his ruling Monday, Chief Judge Mohamed Apandi Ali said that “the usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity. The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community.”
Allah entered into the Malay language centuries ago through Arabic and became the word used by both Christian and Muslim ethnic Malays to refer to God. Malaysia, a former British colony, is home to sizable ethnic and religious minorities who have in the past clashed with a government dominated by the country’s Muslim majority.
The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of The Herald, lamented the new ruling. “It is a retrograde step in the development of law in relation to the fundamental liberty of religious minorities,” he said.