Malaysian Islamic authorities on Thursday seized hundreds of Bibles from a Christian group and questioned two of its officers, one of them said, amid tensions over the use of the word "Allah".
A court in October barred a Malaysian Catholic newspaper from using "Allah" to
refer to the Christian God in its Malay-language edition -- a verdict
which was welcomed by Muslim conservatives but which sparked concern
among Christians, a minority in the multi-faith country.
the verdict, Prime Minister Najib Razak, walking a tightrope between
pleasing his conservative Muslim ethnic Malay base without alienating
non-Muslim minorities, assured Christians the practice of their religion
would not be threatened.
But Islamic officials from the
central state of Selangor on Thursday seized 16 boxes containing more
than 300 Bibles from the Bible Society of Malaysia, said the society's
president Lee Min Choon.
Lee said he and a colleague were
also detained "under a state law, which prohibits the use of the word
Allah by non-Muslims". They were later released but must meet
authorities again next week.
Most of the seized Bibles --
imported from neighbouring Indonesia where Malay is also spoken -- were
in Malay. A few were in Iban, a language spoken by one of the country's
"We have been using them (the Bibles) ever
since the society started (in 1985), and even before that," Lee said.
"This is the first time we have been raided."
Officials from the Selangor Islamic Religious Department did not immediately return a request for comment.
Council of Churches of Malaysia said in a statement it was "alarmed" by
the raid and urged the government to "protect religious rights as
provided under the Federal Constitution".
The dispute over
the use of "Allah" by non-Muslims erupted in early 2009, when the home
ministry threatened to revoke the publishing permit of the Catholic
newspaper the Herald for using the word.
Authorities said using "Allah" in non-Muslim literature could confuse Muslims and entice them to convert.
The Catholic Church sued, claiming violation of its constitutional rights.
church says the word "Allah" is the most accurate translation for "God"
and has been used for decades in Malaysia and elsewhere.
court upheld the church's argument later that year and lifted the ban.
But a higher court overturned that ruling in October, reinstating the
The ban's removal had triggered a series of attacks on
churches and other places of worship in early 2010, using Molotov
cocktails, rocks and paint, and sparked fears of wider religious
Muslims make up 60% of the country's 28 million people, while Christians account for about 9%.
has largely avoided overt religious conflict in recent decades, but
tensions have slowly risen along with what many see as an increasing
'Islamisation' of the country.