Malaysia court delays 'Allah' ruling

Hundreds of Muslims have demonstrated outside Malaysia's highest court as it postponed a decision on whether to hear the Catholic Church's bid to be allowed to call God "Allah".

The church is seeking to challenge a lower court's ruling last October that sides with the government forbidding non-Muslims from using the Arabic "Allah" in the local Malay language, an issue that has increased tensions in the Muslim-majority multi-ethnic country.

But a seven-judge panel in the administrative capital Putrajaya on Wednesday delayed its decision on whether to allow a full hearing of the case, or whether the lower court's verdict stands.

It gave no date for the decision after hearing arguments from both sides.

The church's lawyer Cyrus Das told AFP he was "quite confident" the panel would allow a full hearing. The case is "of great public importance", he said in court.

An appeals court in October barred the Catholic newspaper Herald from using "Allah" in its Malay-language edition, overturning a lower court's 2009 ruling in favour of the church.

The church argues "Allah" has been used for centuries in Malay-language Bibles and other literature to refer to "God" outside of Islam.

But authorities say using "Allah" in non-Muslim literature could confuse Muslims and entice them to convert, a crime in Malaysia.

As the case began Wednesday, some 500 Muslims gathered outside the court, chanting "Allahu Akbar" or "God is great" and holding banners that read: "Want to use 'Allah', join Islam. Don't be ill-mannered".

They dispersed after the court hearing.