Malaysia appeals 'Allah' for Christians ruling

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Malaysia's government filed an appeal Monday to fight a court ruling that allowed non-Muslims to use the word "Allah" to refer to God, a decision that triggered protests in the Muslim-majority country.

The government says Allah is an Islamic word and its use by others would mislead Muslims, implying it could be used to convert them to other religions. Allah, an Arabic word, predates Islam and is used by Arabic-speaking Christians in places such as Egypt and Syria.

Protests by Muslim groups, although peaceful, have raised fears of friction between the Malay Muslim majority and the large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, who mainly practice Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Religious minorities and some moderate Muslims have welcomed the High Court decision as a victory against what they say is institutionalized religious discrimination here.

Authorities deny any discrimination, but recently confiscated 10,000 copies of Malay-language Bibles containing the word Allah.

The Home Ministry is seeking a reversal of the Dec. 31 court decision and will ask for the High Court's ruling to be suspended until the appeal is decided, said government lawyer Kamaluddin Mohammad Said.

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday advised people to be calm.

"I think we should have faith in the government leadership to tackle the problem. We don't want a situation where the court decision can cause anger and tension between the various races in the country," he told reporters.

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed in late 2007 by The Herald, the Roman Catholic Church's main publication in Malaysia. The government ban on the use of the word Allah had affected The Herald's Malay-language edition, read mostly by indigenous tribes who converted to Christianity decades ago.

Efforts by Christians to use Allah in Malay-language literature have been perceived by some Muslims "as a plot to convert Malay Muslims to Christianity," Anas Zubedy, a popular Muslim blogger on social and political issues, wrote after the court verdict, adding his support of the ruling.