KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian authorities have seized some 15,000 bibles imported from Indonesia because they use the word "Allah" as a translation for God which is banned here, a church leader said Thursday.
"The church uses the bible and it is part of the worshipper's life. There is no reason why it should be confiscated," said Reverend Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia.
"The bibles are used in the church," he said, dismissing suggestions by Islamic officials that they could be used to help convert Muslims who make up some 60 percent of the 27 million population.
Shastri said the latest confiscation happened in September when airport authorities in Sarawak state on Borneo island seized 10,000 copies of the Indonesian-language bibles which feature the disputed word "Allah".
Another 5,000 copies were confiscated in March, he said.
"The reason given for the detention of the Scriptures was because they contain banned words," he said.
The Catholic Church has waged a two-year legal battle with Malaysian authorities over the use of the word "Allah" as a translation for "God" in its newspaper published here.
The Herald newspaper, circulated among the country's 850,000 Catholics, nearly lost its publishing licence last year for using the disputed word in its Malay-language edition.
The government has argued that the word "Allah" should be used only by Muslims, who dominate the population of multicultural Malaysia.
The row is one of a string of religious disputes that have erupted in recent years, straining relations between Muslim Malays and minority ethnic Chinese and Indians who fear the country is being "Islamised".
Shastri said there was no reason to seize the bibles because the use of the word "Allah" predates Islam.
"The word is not sensitive in Indonesia and the Christians use it in the Middle East. It is mainly driven by other motives ... (to project) the dominance of Islam in Malaysia," he said.
Officials at the home ministry, which Shastri said was involved in the seizure, were not immediately available for comment.