(Muslim demonstrators chant slogans outside Malaysia’s Court of Appeal in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur October 14, 2013. REUTERS/Samsul Said )

A Malaysian court has ruled that a Christian newspaper may not use the word “Allah” to refer to God, a landmark decision on an issue that has fanned religious tension and raised questions over minority rights in the mainly Muslim country.

The unanimous decision by three Muslim judges in Malaysia’s appeals court overturned a 2009 ruling by a lower court that allowed the Malay-language version of the newspaper, The Herald, to use the word Allah – as many Christians in Malaysia say has been the case for centuries.

“The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity,” chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali said in the ruling on Monday. “The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community.”

The decision coincides with heightened ethnic and religious tension in Malaysia after a polarising May election, in which the long-ruling coalition was deserted by urban voters that included a large section of minority ethnic Chinese.