Malaysia 'Allah' court ruling: PM Najib speaks out

image captionMr Najib said that the court ruling should not be politicised

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has spoken out about a recent court ruling that says non-Muslims cannot use the word Allah to refer to their God.

The controversial ruling said that the term Allah must be exclusive to Islam or it could cause public disorder.

However, Mr Najib said Christians in the states of Sabah and Sarawak could continue to refer to their God as Allah - something disputed by some lawyers.

People of all faiths use the word Allah in Malay to refer to their gods.

The 17 October ruling overturned a 2009 ruling that said that a Catholic newspaper, The Herald, could use the word Allah in its Malay-language edition to describe the Christian God.

The 2009 ruling sparked tensions, with churches and mosques attacked.

"Recently, when the Appeals Court made its decision on the use of the word Allah, it did not at all touch on the practices of Christians in Sabah and Sarawak," Mr Najib said on Monday.

"The 10-point agreement remains," he added, referring to what local media describe as a 2011 agreement that allowed Bibles of all languages to be imported into Malaysia and Bibles to be printed locally in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak.

In a statement on Sunday, Malaysia's Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail said that while the word Allah could not be used by The Herald, it could continue to be used in Malay-language Bibles.

"The Al-Kitab is the Malay version of the Bible and [is] meant for Christians and use in churches whereas the Herald is a newspaper which is also accessible online and read by Muslims and non-Muslims," he said.

'Far-reaching implications'

This latest announcement from the government has only confused the country's two million Christians, the BBC's Jennifer Pak in Kuala Lumpur reports.

Some Christians are worried they will face more restrictions in the future, our correspondent adds.

Some legal experts have described the government as back-pedalling over the court decision.

"The statements... were to pacify Christians all over the country that they could practice their faith as guaranteed under the Federal Constitution," lawyer Edmund Bon told news website The Malaysian Insider.

"But they cannot run away from the ruling which had far-reaching implications," Mr Bon added.

The 17 October ruling had dismayed many Christians in Malaysia.

"For centuries the Bahasa Malaysia translation and the Arabic equivalent of one God is the sacred word "Allah", which the Christians have been using peacefully," the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam said in a statement on Sunday.

"To conclude that the word Allah is not essential to the Christian faith would be a grave denial of the fundamental right of the Bahasa Malaysia speaking Christian community to use this word... this would be tantamount to signalling a form of persecution," he said.

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