By Worthy News Asia Service
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (Worthy News)-- Malaysia's government was still refusing Saturday, November 7, to release some 15,000 imported Bibles because the word "Allah" for God appears in them, officials said.
In a statement, monitored by Worthy News and its partner agency BosNewsLife, the Home Ministry's publications unit said the government rejected pleas by church officials to allow the Bibles, imported from Indonesia, into the country.
The government said the Arabic-origin word "Allah" is an Islamic word and its use by Christians and others will upset Muslims.
Malaysian port and customs authorities seized some 10,000 of the Bahasa Malaysia-language Bibles, which were printed in Indonesia, in Kuching, capital of Sarawak state in eastern Malaysia. Another 5,100 copies, seized in March, are in Klang near Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpu, Christian officials said.
Another 5,100 Bibles, also imported from Indonesia, were confiscated in March and have also not been released.
The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), which had called for the release of all Bibles, described the seizure as "ridiculous and offensive." "This constitutional right (to practice freely) is rendered illusory if Christians in Malaysia are denied access to Bibles in a language with which they are familiar," said the federation's chairman Bishop Ng Moon Hing said.
He also rejected concerns that Bibles in the Malaysian language, or Bahasa Malaysia, containing "Allah," will anger Muslims. "Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia have been used since before the independence of our country and have never been the cause of any public disorder," he said. Malaysia gained independence in 1957.
In 2005, the government of Malaysia agreed to allow the use of “Allah” in non-Muslim literature, CFM said, adding that that Bahasa Malaysia Bibles can be distributed if the symbol of the cross and the words “A Christian publication” are printed on the front page. However other officials said the use of "Allah" in Christian texts remains banned in this Muslim-majority country.
Observers said the dispute threatens to undermine Malaysia's efforts to project itself as a moderate Muslim nation with multi-religious traditions, including a multi-million dollar 'Truly Asia' tourism campaign which airs on several international television networks.
About 30 percent of the country's 28 million people practice Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism or other faiths, according to estimates. (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).