Malaysia Releases 5,000 'Defaced' Bibles to Christians

Malaysian authorities have released about 5,000 "defaced" Bibles to the country's Christian leaders.

On Thursday, the Bible Society of Malaysia's general secretary, the Rev. Simon Wong, said that the organization plans to preserve as "museum pieces" the Bibles that were "defaced" by stamps and many government seals, according to The Associated Press.

The Bible Society of Malaysia said the Bibles, which have been detained since March 2009, cannot be sold because of the marks on them.

For the past two years, authorities have detained about 35,000 Bibles because they used the word "Allah" for God. The government of the predominantly Muslim country contends that the word "Allah" is exclusively a term for Muslims. But Christians in the country argue that "Allah" is an Arabic word that existed before Islam and has been used for centuries to mean "God" in Malay.

Officials fear that using "Allah" in Christian materials, including newspapers, could confuse Muslims and cause them to convert.

The dispute over the word "Allah" has deeply divided Malaysia's religious groups. On March 15, the Malaysian government sought to resolve the issue by announcing that it will release all 35,000 Bibles seized. But on Tuesday, only 5,000 were released.

Bibles are not illegal in Malaysia, but the scriptures at the center of the dispute were pulled into a court battle about the use of the word "Allah" as translation for "God."

The court battle began in 2007 when the Catholic Church of Malaysia filed a lawsuit against the government when officials threatened to revoke the printing permit of its publication for using the word "Allah."

In December 2009, the case reached the country's Supreme Court, which ruled that religious minorities have the right to use the word "Allah."

But Muslims, angered by the court decision, firebombed 11 churches last January. Other religious buildings, including a Sikh temple and several mosques, were also attacked after the ruling.

The government successfully appealed the Supreme Court decision in February 2010. But authorities promised to allow distribution of Bibles in at least two of the more populous Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah.

The 5,000 released but "defaced" Bibles that will be preserved as museum pieces will serve as a reminder of the dispute between Malaysian Christians and the government, said Wong of the Bible Society of Malaysia, according to AP.

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