Sikhs join Christians in legal battle over use of ‘Allah’

A SIKH group in Malaysia is demanding the right to use the world ‘Allah’ as a synonym for God and has joined a legal battle by Christians against a government order banning non-Muslims from using it.

The Malaysian Gurdwaras Council filed an application at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Tuesday seeking to join a suit by The Herald, a Roman Catholic newspaper, against the government over the use of the word ‘Allah’, said council president Sardar Jagir Singh.

The Home Ministry previously ordered the newspaper not to use the word ‘Allah’ in its Malay-language publication as a translation for God, saying it would confuse Muslims. The Herald then filed the suit, claiming it had a right to use the term.

Mr Jagir said his council, representing more than 100,000 Sikhs, wanted to join the suit because the ruling would affect them too.

The word ‘Allah’ appears on ‘numerous occasions’ in the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, he said. ‘Not a word can be altered. It’s our holiest book…it will mean we can’t practise our own religion.’

Mr Jagir said he has not received a court date for the suit yet.

The High Court is scheduled to hear, next Wednesday, the applications of several Islamic institutions that have applied to intervene in the suit to defend the ban.

The Herald – which publishes in English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil – says ‘Allah’ is an Arabic word that predates Islam and has been used for centuries to mean ‘God’ in Malay.

The government has not explained how the use of ‘Allah’ by other religions would confuse Muslims, but apparently wants to draw a sharp distinction between God in the Islamic faith from other faiths.

The case is one in an increasing series of complaints by religious minorities in Malaysia that their rights have been undermined by government efforts to bolster the status of Islam, the country’s official religion.

In a separate case, the Sabah Evangelical Church of Borneo has filed a lawsuit in an effort to be allowed to use the word ‘Allah’ after officials last year banned the import of books containing the word.

Hearings in that case are still in the preliminary stages.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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