Malaysia’s king gave his backing on Sunday to a court ruling barring non-Muslims from using the word “Allah” to refer to God, weighing in for the first time on an issue that has fanned religious tensions in the multi-cultural country.
Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam, whose role as head of state is largely ceremonial, alluded to the issue which has raised questions over miniority rights during his birthday speech to the Southeast Asian nation.
A court in October ruled that the word was exclusive to majority Malay Muslims, overturning an earlier decision allowing a Catholic newspaper to use Allah in its Malay-language edition.
The court ruling has since prompted Muslim leaders to call for demonstrations against Christians who do not comply. Christians make up about 9% of Malaysia’s 29 million people.
“In the context of a pluralistic society, religious sensitivities especially related to Islam as the religion of the federation should be respected,” Sultan Abdul Halim said in the speech released by state news agency Bernama.
“Confusion and controversy can be averted if there is adherence to the provisions of the law and judicial decisions.”
Police are currently investigating a Catholic priest under sedition laws for insisting the word can be used by non-Muslims in Malay, the country’s national language.