Malaysia (MNN) — The “Allah” issue continues to unfold in Malaysia. According to Malaysiakini.com, authorities recently raided a Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) office in Selangor and confiscated hundreds of Malay-language Bibles.
BSM president Lee Min Choon told the Web news group that the state Islamic Religious Department (Jais) confiscated 321 copies of Scripture and 10 Bibles in the Iban language on Thursday.
“We don’t know what will happen, but I guess this is something to do with the ‘Allah’ word fiasco,” Choon told Malaysiakini.com.
Choon and two other Bible Society members were arrested during the raid. Although they were later released on bail, the trio was told to report to Jais on Friday for further investigation.
“The word ‘Allah’ is the common word for God,” explains Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton.
“It is used by both Muslims and Christians, but now the government is saying, ‘Hey, Christians are not allowed to use that word; these Bibles that are printed with the word Allah inside them are now illegal.'”
Islamic officials reportedly used a 1988 state law as support for their decision to raid the BSM office. The enactment puts a blanket ban on non-Muslims’ use of 35 Arabic religious words, including Allah.
However, lawyers told TheMalayMailOnline.com on Friday that the Jais raid, and use of the 1988 law to support their actions, was unconstitutional.
“The constitution does not say we can’t use these words at all, it just [says] the state law may restrict propagation of other religions on Muslims,” said human rights lawyer Andrew Khoo.
Allah tensions between Malaysia’s Muslim and Christian communities trace back to a 2009 court case involving a Roman Catholic newspaper, “The Herald.” They wanted the right to use the word Allah in their publications, and a Christian judge ruled that it was okay, thereby granting Christ-followers permission to use Allah in reference to God.
However, Islamic parties fought back, claiming Allah was strictly a Muslim word, and the Home Ministry filed an appeal in 2010. In October, an upper court overturned the 2009 decision, making Allah strictly an Islamic word.
The case is still before Federal Court, and a hearing is expected to take place on February 24, according to TheMalayMailOnline.com.
Below the Surface
Nettleton says the Allah debate and issues stemming from this case all point to a deeper conflict.
“The Malay people are considered to be, by the government at least, 100% Muslim,” he states.
“They [the government] don’t want the Malay people to be evangelized, so they want to make it as difficult as possible for Christians to communicate the Gospel message in the Malay language.”
Most Christians in Malaysia are not ethnic Malays, Nettleton explains, and he says the government “wants to keep it that way.” Many states have written legal codes that give religious minorities basic freedoms, such as using Allah to describe God or owning religious texts. But, the majority draw a line at evangelism.
“The government very much wants to keep the Malay people Muslim,” Nettleton explains. He says it’s officially illegal to proselytize–share the Gospel with–a Malay Muslim.
Pray that government efforts to stop Gospel work will backfire.
Nettleton notes human nature plays an interesting role in this case because “if something is forbidden, it [becomes] interesting.
“We can pray that, among the Malay people, they will wonder, ‘Well, what’s all the fuss about this Book that they don’t want us to read?’ and perhaps even get a copy and start reading it. I think this can be a time where seeds are planted, a time where people are interested in the Gospel.”
Pray for courage and strength for the Body of Christ in Malaysia. Pray for BSM as they contest the raid on their office.
“We can pray for that process, but I think just mostly pray for the believers to continue to be bold witnesses for Christ, in spite of this pressure and persecution that they’re facing.”