Malaysia’s Islamic authorities seized hundreds of Bibles from a Christian group Thursday because the holy texts use the word “Allah” in reference to God.
Lee Min Choon, chairman of the Bible Society of Malaysia, said Muslim officials declared the organization had violated the law.
As a result, the group lost 321 of its Bibles during the raid.
“We were told that we were under investigation for breaking a Selangor state law banning non-Muslims from using the word Allah,” Choon told Reuters.
Two staff members — Choon and general-secretary Simon Wong — were subsequently sent to a police station to make official statements and were released on bail, Reuters reported.
“At the door, they said they wanted to come in as there were Bibles containing the word ‘Allah,’” one council member from the Bible Society told the Malaysian Insider. “But that is nothing new and should not come as a surprise, this is what we do, import Bibles containing the word as allowed in the 10-point solution made by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala.”
The raid on the organization is significant, as it is the first time Islamic officials have entered the premises of a private Christian organization to seize Bibles.
Typically, the Selangor Islamic Religious department (Jais) can only oversee Muslim citizens, leading the Bible Society to express its shock over the raid, which was reportedly conducted by 20 Jais members and two police officers.
“BSM is of the view that this action contravenes a host of legal provisions, including that of the Federal Constitution. This is a sad day, heralding the erosion of minority rights,” the Bible Society said in a statement, according to Malaysia Today.
The battle over “Allah” has been brewing for quite some time. In October, a judge ruled that the word can only be used legally by Muslims, despite the fact that many Christians have traditionally used it to describe God.
Previously, in 2009, anger abounded over an earlier court ruling that allowed a Catholic group to use the word Allah; the October ruling overturned that decision.
The latest court decision and the most recent raid have caused questions surrounding just how influential Islamic law is becoming over civil courts and regulatory structures, Reuters reported.
Allah isn’t the only word that cannot be used by non-Muslims. According to The Malaysian Insider, it is one of 35 words. Others include “Nabi,” which means prophet,” “Injil,” which means Bible and “Insya’Allah,” which means God willing.
Allah, in Arabic, simply means “God” and it is frequently used by Arab Christians as well.
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