Malaysian authorities have seized more than 15,000 Bibles that refer to God as "Allah" in recent months, said church officials Thursday.
About 10,000 Bibles from Indonesia were confiscated by authorities on Sept. 11, according to the Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, according to The Associated Press. The other 5,100 Bibles, also from Indonesia, were seized in March, according to an official from the Bible Society of Malaysia, who requested that AP not identify him to avoid angering the government.
In Malaysia, Christian publications cannot use the word Allah to refer to God. The government contends the word "Allah" is exclusively for Islam, but church officials argue that Allah is not exclusive to Islam because it is an Arabic word that existed before the religion.
The confiscated Bibles were translated into Malay, the country's official language, where the word for God is "Allah."
"Malay has borrowed from Arabic, just as it has from Sanskrit and Portuguese," said Shastri, according to CNN. "We have maintained the community has the right to use the word.
"But I think this has ignited a cause in the Muslim communities, who are interpreting it as a siege on Islamic beliefs."
The government has said the use of Allah in Christian publications could confuse Muslims and make Christian ideas more appealing to them.
About 60 percent of Malaysia's population is Muslim and about nine percent is Christian. Buddhists make up another 19 percent and Hindus about six percent of the population.
The confiscated Bibles are the latest incident in a long struggle between the Christian community and the government over the use of the word Allah. The Roman Catholic weekly newspaper, The Herald, has been in an ongoing court battle for over two years after the government threatened to revoke its license for using the word Allah in its Malay edition.
But Shastri said, "For most of the Christians, this is not an issue of going against the authorities. They have been using [the word "Allah"] for a long time," as reported by AP.