Malaysian Sikhs fight to retain 'Allah' in Granth Sahib

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - A Sikh group in Muslim-majority 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, an official said on Friday.

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 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 using the word would confuse Muslims. The Herald then filed suit, claiming it had a right to use the word.

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

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 practice our own religion."

Jagir said so far he has not received a court date. The high court is scheduled next Wednesday to hear the applications of several Islamic institutions that have applied to intervene in the suit to defend the ban.

The Herald 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 the Islamic God and all other deities.

The case is an example of increasing 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.