KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – The Malaysian government will issue a new decree restoring a ban on Christian publications using the word "Allah" to refer to God, officials said Sunday.
Home Affairs Minister Syed Hamid Albar said a previous Feb. 16 decree that allowed Christian publications to use the word as long as they specified the material was not for Muslims was a mistake, the national Bernama news agency reported.
The about-turn came after Islamic groups slammed the government and warned that even conditional use of the word by Christians would anger Muslims, who make up the country's majority.
A senior ministry official confirmed Syed Hamid's comments, saying there were "interpretation mistakes" in the Feb. 16 decree that led to the confusion.
"'Allah' cannot be used for other religions except Islam because it might confuse Muslims. This is the ministry's stand and it hasn't changed," the official, who declined to be named citing protocol, told The Associated Press.
The official said the ministry was likely to issue a new decree to annul the old one and effectively re-impose the ban.
The dispute has become symbolic of increasing religious tensions in Malaysia, where 60 percent of the 27 million people are Muslim Malays. A third of the population is ethnic Chinese and Indian, and many of them practice Christianity.
Malaysia's minorities have often complained that their constitutional right to practice their religions freely has come under threat from the Malay Muslim-dominated government. They cite destruction of Hindu temples and conversion disputes as examples. The government denies any discrimination.
The Herald, the Roman Catholic Church's main newspaper in the country, had filed a legal suit to challenge the government ban on non-Muslims using the word.
The Herald argued that the Arabic word is a common reference for God that predates Islam and has been used for centuries as a translation in Malay.
Rev. Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the Herald, said Sunday the publication had not been notified of the government's change in policy.
"Unfortunately the apparent relief that we imagined we were able to enjoy has been short-lived," he said.