( dpa ) - The Malaysian cabinet has banned the use of the word Allah - which means God in Arabic - by other religions, saying that the term can only be used to describe the Muslim God, a news report Friday said.
Cabinet members had agreed to uphold a restriction preventing the use of the term to describe God's of other religions apart from Islam, according to Abdullah Mohamad Zin, minister in the Prime Minister's Department
"One of the reasons given to uphold the restriction is because it has long been the practice of this country that the word Allah refers to God according to the Muslim faith," Abdullah was quoted as saying by the Star daily.
Abdullah said printed publications of other religions would have to use the term God and not Allah so as not to confuse Muslims.
"The use of the word Allah by non-Muslims may arouse sensitivity and create confusion among Muslims in the country," he said.
The controversy over the use of the term was sparked off late December when publishers of a local Catholic publication claimed they were ordered to cease the use of "Allah" in their newsletters, or risk having their printing permit suspended or revoked. The publishers of the Catholic weekly, which carries reports about the Malaysian Catholic community in various languages - namely English, the national language Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil and Chinese - has a circulation of 12,000, the Star said.
Malaysia, which is stated as a secular nation in its constitution, has a large 60 per cent Muslim majority.
However, Christians make up some 10 per cent of the population, while Buddhism and Hinduism is also widely practised by much of the 30 per cent non-Malay population.
The government has maintained it practises moderate Islamic law, and is opposed to extremism.