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Malaysia warns lawyers against "Allah" discussion

Published: 6:36AM Monday March 23, 2009 Source: Reuters

Malaysia warned a leading lawyers association not to use its website to discuss whether non-Muslims can use the word "Allah" for God, the state news agency Bernama reported, saying it would incur the wrath of the country's majority Muslims.

The authorities banned the Catholic Herald newspaper's use of Allah to denote God last year. The Herald is now suing the government to overturn the ruling.

The newspaper says it is a scapegoat for the government which it says is stoking religious conflict to garner support from the dominant Muslim-Malay population after losing its solid two-thirds majority last year.

The Malaysian Bar Council, which represents 12,000 lawyers, had asked its members and visitors to the website to vote in a poll on whether any race had an exclusive right over the word Allah and if non-Muslim religious publications should be allowed to use the word to refer to God.

"If they (the Bar Council) continue to play up the issue, the Muslims may rise and if they do, the Bar should not be angry but willing to accept the consequences," Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Minister in charge of Islamic affairs, was quoted as saying.

"This is the final warning for the Bar Council ... The cabinet and parliament too had ruled that the issue should not be put to discussion. After this I hope no individual or organisation will raise the issue."

The dispute over the use of Allah feeds into a feud over conversions between the government of a country where 60% of the population of 27 million people are Malays who must be Muslim, and ethnic Indians and Chinese who account for the rest and practise Hinduism and Buddhism.

It is illegal to renounce Islam in Malaysia but conversions to Islam are allowed and even encouraged.

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