04 November, 2009

Government rejects call to release 15000 Bibles confiscated

Government has refused to release 15,000 Bibles confiscated for using the word "Allah" to refer to God, a banned translation in Christian texts in this Muslim-majority country, an official said today.

An official from the Home Ministry's publications unit said the government rejected pleas by church officials to allow the Bibles, imported from Indonesia, into the country. Christians say the Muslim Malay-dominated government is violating their right to practice their religion freely.

The government in March banned the use of the word 'Allah' in non-Muslim publications, sparking fierce condemnation from religious groups who argue that the government had no legal right to ban the use of a word that predated the Koran and Islam.

Earlier this week, Christian groups said that the government seized 15,000 Bibles, most of which were to be sent to the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak, where the Malay language is most commonly used among people of all religions.

Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) called for the immediate release of the Bibles, saying that withholding the holy books would be denying Malay-speaking believers the right to practise their faith.

The CFM said in its statement Wednesday that the reason given by the authorities, which was that the Bibles were 'prejudicial to public order', was ridiculous and offensive.

'Bibles in (Malay) have been used since before the independence of our country and have never been the cause of any public disorder,' said Bishop Ng Moon Hing, chairman of the group.

'It is this action by the authorities themselves which is an affront to good public order,' he said in the statement.

'We call on the relevant government officials who have neither the authority nor the right to act in this unconscionable manner to explain their action to the church leaders and to the public.'

According to a church leader, the government seized the bibles because of the use of the word 'Allah' in the Malay-language bibles (which means God when translated) which was banned here, as this word is to be used exclusively in Islam.

This is because the authorities feel that the use of 'Allah' in Christian publications is likely to confuse Muslims and draw them into Christianity. Therefore, it was banned from Christian literature.

The Home Ministry said the words kaaba, baitullah and solat were similarly banned from Christian publications.

Reverend Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia said that these words were borrowed from Arabic, among other languages and maintained that the community should be allowed to use them.

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