Malaysia hearings start in Catholic "Allah" fight

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church urged a court Monday to let Christians use "Allah" as a translation for God and overturn a government ban that has become a symbol of religious grievances in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

The High Court began hearing legal arguments in the dispute, which began in late 2007 after the government blocked non-Muslims from translating God as "Allah" in their literature, saying it would confuse Muslims.

Authorities have insisted that Allah should be used exclusively by Muslims to refer to God, and its use by other religions would be misleading.

The ban mainly affects the Malay-language edition of the Catholic Church's main publication in Malaysia, The Herald, which is read mostly by indigenous tribes who converted to Christianity decades ago.

"Our position has been made clear to the court," The Herald's editor, the Rev. Lawrence Andrew, told The Associated Press. "The main thing is we've been using this word ... for a long time, for centuries."

The Church's lawyers told the court the ban was unconstitutional.

In recent years, authorities have seized some Malay-language Bibles that used "Allah."

Nearly 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims. One-third are ethnic Chinese or Indians, most of whom practice Buddhism, Christianity or Hinduism.

The minorities have often complained that their constitutional right to practice religion freely has come under threat from the Muslim-dominated government, which denies any discrimination. Other disputes in recent years have involved the demolition of Hindu temples illegally built on state-owned land.