The representative body of Christians in Malaysia is calling for the immediate release of the more than 15,000 Bibles that were seized by Malaysian authorities this past year, arguing that the confiscation is an infringement of their constitutional rights.
“This constitutional right is rendered illusory if Christians in Malaysia are denied access to Bibles in a language with which they are familiar,” stated the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) in a statement Wednesday.
“It is baseless to withhold the Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian language) on the ground that they are ‘prejudicial to public order,’” it added.
According to reports, about 5,100 Bibles imported from Indonesia were seized in March and 10,000 Bibles, also from Indonesia, were confiscated by authorities on Sept. 11.
The Bibles, written in the country's official language, Malay, were reportedly seized because they refer to God as “Allah” – a word that Malaysia has banned non-Muslims from using, claiming that the word is Islamic and may confuse Muslims when used to refer to the God of Christians.
Church leaders, however, argue that "Allah" has been used for centuries to mean "God" in Malay.
“Malay has borrowed from Arabic, just as it has from Sanskrit and Portuguese,” the Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, explained to CNN.
Furthermore, church leaders say, Bibles in the Malaysian language have been used since before the independence of their country and has never been the cause of any public disorder.
“Since the 1970s and in consonance with the government's policies in education and the national language, Christians in Malaysia have received their education in Bahasa Malaysia. To deny the same Christians in Malaysia the right to read and study the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia is thus ridiculous and offensive,” stated Bishop Ng Moon Hing, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, together with the church body’s executive committee.
“In fact, it is this action by the authorities themselves which is an affront to good public order,” they added.
With this, CFM is calling on the government to “walk the talk” by upholding the country’s policy and vision and not curtailing or imposing conditions on the freedom of citizens to worship, pray and read the Holy Scriptures in the Malaysian language.
“We ask that the relevant authorities resolve this matter promptly and release these Bibles for the use of Christians without any further delay or excuse,” the church body concluded.