More than 300 Bibles are confiscated in Malaysia

Two copies of the Bible in Malay (left) and the Iban dialect are seen in this picture illustration taken in Kuala Lumpur
Image caption Christian organisations in Malaysia say that they are alarmed by the confiscations

Islamic authorities in Malaysia have seized more than 300 Bibles from the Bible Society because they use the word Allah to refer to God, officials say.

Bible Society officials told Reuters that two of their members were briefly detained following the seizure.

A court ruled in October that non-Muslims could not use the word Allah to refer to God.

The appeals court said the term Allah must be exclusive to Islam or it could cause public disorder.

People of all faiths use the word Allah in Malay to refer to their gods.

Christians argue they have used the word, which entered Malay from Arabic, to refer to their God for centuries and that the ruling violates their rights.

The October court ruling overturned a 2009 ruling which said that a Catholic newspaper, The Herald, could use the word Allah in its Malay-language edition to describe the Christian God.

The 2009 ruling sparked tensions, with churches and mosques attacked.

Critics accuse the government of tacitly condoning Bible seizures as a way of deflecting anger against Prime Minister Najib Razak's government from poor Malay Muslims who are angry over subsidy cuts likely to force up electricity, petrol and sugar prices.

'Nothing against the law'

The Malay language Bibles were seized from the Malaysian Bible Society in the state of Selangor near the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Image caption The October court case rekindled a long-running debate in Muslim-majority Malaysia about the use of the word Allah

"We were told that we were under investigation for breaking a Selangor state law banning non-Muslims from using the word Allah," Bible Society of Malaysia Chairman Lee Min Choon told Reuters.

The main political party within Mr Najib's ruling coalition, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), said its Selangor members would protest at all churches in the state on Sunday against the unauthorised use of the word Allah.

"There are laws in Selangor and there was a decree by his Royal Highness the Sultan. So what they are doing is carrying out the Sultan's decree," Deputy Prime Minister and UMNO Deputy President Muhyiddin Yassin was quoted by media as saying.

"They are not doing anything against the law."

But in a statement the Council of Churches of Malaysia said it was "alarmed" by the raid and urged the government to "protect religious rights as provided under the Federal Constitution".

The 2009 dispute began when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the publishing permit of The Herald for using the word Allah.

Malay Muslims make up almost two-thirds of the country's population, but there are large Hindu and Christian communities.

Mr Najib's coalition won elections in May, but it was the coalition's worst result in more than half a century in power.

Related Topics

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites