PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia's highest court on Monday dismissed a bid by Christians for the right to use the word "Allah", ending a years-long legal battle that has caused religious tensions in the Muslim-majority country.
The Catholic Church had been seeking to reverse a government ban on it referring to God by the Arabic word "Allah" in the local Malay-language edition of its Herald newspaper.
But a seven-judge panel in the administrative capital Putrajaya ruled a lower court decision siding with the government stood.
"It (the Court of Appeal) applied the correct test, and it is not open for us to interfere," chief justice Arifin Zakaria said.
"By a majority of four to three, the leave application is dismissed." S. Selvarajah, one of the church's lawyers, said his team would explore further ways to challenge the ban.
"It's a blanket ban. Non-Muslims cannot use the word. It has a major impact," he told AFP.
The case has dragged on for years, causing anger among Muslims, who say Christians are overstepping religious boundaries, and concern among Christians who feel their rights are under threat.
The Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew said the judgement "didn't touch on the fundamental rights of minorities".
"We are greatly disappointed by this judgment," he said.
Outside the court, which was cordoned off, about a hundred Muslim activists cheered the news of the verdict.
Earlier, they had shouted "Allahu Akbar" or "God is great" and waved banners that read "Uniting to defend the name of Allah".
"I'm very pleased and happy that we have won the case. I hope the issue will be put to rest," Ibrahim Ali, head of Muslim rights group Perkasa, told AFP.
"We must defend 'Allah' because this is our religious obligation. I hope other communities, including Christians, understand this."
Danger of conversion?
The dispute first erupted in 2007 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the publishing permit of the Herald for using the Arabic word in its Malay-language edition.