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Malaysia court rules non-Muslims can’t use ‘Allah’

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A Malaysian appeals court on Monday upheld a government ban against the use of the word ‘‘Allah’’ to refer to God in non-Muslim faiths, overruling claims by Christians in this Muslim-majority nation that the restriction violates their religious rights.

‘‘Allah’’ is the Arabic word for God and is commonly used in the Malay language to refer to God. But the Malaysian government insists that ‘‘Allah’’ should be exclusively reserved for Muslims because of concerns its use by others would confuse Muslims and could be used to convert them.

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Malaysia’s Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu minorities have often complained that the government infringes on their constitutional right to practice religion freely, accusations the government denies.

Monday’s judgment in the Court of Appeals overturns a decision by a lower court nearly four years ago that ruled against the government ban. Anger over that ruling sparked a string of arson attacks and vandalism at Malaysian churches and other places of worship.

The dispute stems from efforts by the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia to use ‘‘Allah’’ in its Malay-language weekly publication. The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Catholic newspaper, The Herald, said the publication plans to appeal Monday’s verdict.

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