Malaysian legal body faces lawsuit for using 'Allah'

Malaysian religious authorities have threatened to sue the country's top legal body for using the word "Allah" on its website, in another row over the issue to hit the multi-ethnic country.

The Islamic religious council in central Selangor state said it would take action against the Malaysian Bar, which represents some 12,000 lawyers, for using the word as a translation for "God" in two online polls on its website.

Its comments came amid a long-running battle between the government and a Roman Catholic newspaper which has been threatened with closure for using the disputed word in its Malay-language edition.

The government has argued that the word should be used only by Muslims, who dominate the population of multicultural Malaysia.

The Malaysian Bar's polls asked lawyers to vote on whether any particular race in Malaysia had an exclusive right to use "Allah" and whether non-Muslim religious publications should be allowed to use the word.

"The issue raised in the polls can threaten the sensitivity of Muslims," the head of the religious council Mohamad Adzib Mohamad Isa said in a statement.

He said it was empowered under religious laws to lay charges against anyone misusing the word "Allah".

The Malaysian Bar said it would defend its use of the word.

"I haven't receive a (legal) notice yet, we are prepared to challenge it," its president Ragunath Kesavan told AFP.

Religion and language are sensitive issues in multiracial Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.

About 60 percent of the nation's 27 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims, who dominate the government.

The rest of the population includes indigenous tribes as well as ethnic Chinese and Indians -- practising Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, among others.

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