MALAYSIA - The surprise seizure of Malay and Iban-language Bibles containing the word "Allah" has raised legal questions, with lawyers saying the Selangor Islamic Department (Jais) had no authority to raid the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia.
"The raid, seizure and arrest by Jais were unconstitutional and illegal," Mr Christopher Leong, president of the Malaysian Bar, said in a statement on Friday.
"At a time when we should be exerting our energies and resources towards national reconciliation and harmony, the actions by Jais are unnecessarily provocative and unwise."
Jais director Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad was quoted by The Star newspaper as saying that the raid followed an investigation of the Bible Society. He added: "There will not be any more comment."
The raid escalated an already tenuous situation stemming from an Oct 14 Court of Appeal decision to limit the use of the word "Allah" to Muslims.
Many Muslims see "Allah" as referring only to the Muslim God, and fear Christians who use "Allah" may be trying to convert Muslims. But Christian groups say they have long used "Allah" in worship, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, and are appealing against the ruling in federal court.
The "Allah" controversy is problematic because it straddles Malaysia's dual legal system, civil law for non-Muslims and syariah law for Muslims.
In this case, Jais, which is part of the syariah system, saw fit to raid the Bible Society, based on a ruling in civil court.
On Dec 27, Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, a Catholic newsletter, had called on churches in Selangor to continue using "Allah" in Malay-language publications, prompting Muslim groups to file police reports against him.
On Thursday, Jais, accompanied by two police officers, seized over 300 Malay-language Bibles and 10 copies of the Bup Kudus Iban-language Bible from the Bible Society. They did not have a warrant, nor did they inform the Selangor state Cabinet.