Malaysia’s top court ruled Monday that non-Muslims cannot use the word “Allah” to refer to God.
In a 4-3 judgment, the Federal Court rejected a challenge by the Roman Catholic Church to consider the rights of all minorities in the largely Muslim nation and upheld a government ban on the use of the word.
Most Christians in Malaysia worship in English, Tamil or various Chinese dialects, and refer to God in those languages but some Malay-speaking people on Borneo island have no other word for God but “Allah,” a Malay word derived from Arabic.
The government says Allah should be reserved exclusively for Muslims, who make up nearly two-thirds of the country’s 29 million people.
If other religions use the term, that could confuse Muslims and lead them to convert away from Islam, it claims.
The controversy has provoked violence in Malaysia.