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Legality of Bible Society of Malaysia raid debated comment (0)

January 23, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Should non-Muslims be able to use the term “Allah”? That is the question at the center of a heated controversy right now in Malaysia where Sunni Islam is the official religion.

The Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) offices in Damansara Kim, near Kuala Lumpur, were raided without a search warrant by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (JAIS) and local police Jan. 2.

During the raid, 330 Bibles — 320 copies of the Malay Bible and 10 copies in Iban, an indigenous language — were confiscated. JAIS also detained BSM president Lee Min Choon and office manager Sinclair Wong for questioning. Both were released on bail after two hours without charge, but police instructed them to return for further questioning by JAIS on Jan. 10, which they did. 

JAIS, which has no jurisdiction over non-Muslims, did not provide reasons for the raid. The religious agency, which advises the head of Islam within the state on Islamic matters, was purportedly acting under the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment of 1988. This enactment prohibits non-Muslims from using more than 40 religious terms, including “Allah,” an Arabic word that also serves as the Malay word for God. The word “Allah” appears in copies of the Bibles that were seized during the raid.

But BSM officials do not believe they violated any laws.

In 2011, a plan known as the 10-point solution was developed by the National Unity Consultative Council. In the solution, the government had assured Christians in East Malaysia they were free to print and import Malay-language Bibles. It also allowed Malay-language Bibles to be printed or brought into West Malaysia so long as they bear the symbol of the cross and the words “Christian publication” on the front cover.

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