Fresh dispute over use of 'Allah' after raid on Bible group

KUALA LUMPUR - A festering controversy over the use of the word "Allah" by Christians burst into the open again yesterday after the Islamic authorities in Selangor raided the premises of a Christian group and seized hundreds of Malay and Iban-language Bibles.

Two top officials of the group were taken in for questioning.

Police said the editor of the Catholic weekly newsletter, The Herald, Father Lawrence Andrew, would also be questioned for allegedly urging Christians to keep using "Allah" for church services in Malay.

The controversy, which has been bubbling since 2009, is still pending before the courts, with the church appealing against the latest ruling on the matter.

The Court of Appeal in October overturned a High Court ruling that the Home Ministry's ban on The Herald using "Allah" was unconstitutional.

More than a dozen enforcement officers from the Selangor Islamic Religious Department, better known by its acronym Jais, accompanied by two police officers, entered the Bible Society of Malaysia's office in Petaling Jaya yesterday and seized several religious publications.

They took 321 Malay Bibles, known as "Al-Kitab", 10 "Bup Kudus" - the Iban version of the Bible - which contains the word "Allah-ta'ala", meaning "Lord God", and 20 Malay versions of the Luke Gospel, all of which were imported from Indonesia.

The society, which holds the copyright for the books, regularly sends them to Christian churches in Sarawak.

The Singapore Bible Society also buys them periodically from Malaysia.

The society's president, Mr Lee Min Choon, and its secretary-general Simon Wong, were also questioned at a nearby police station.

"We have been using them (the Bibles) ever since the society started (in 1985), and even before that," Mr Lee was quoted as saying by news agency Agence France-Presse.

"This is the first time we have been raided." Society treasurer Nick Ng told The Straits Times: "It is shocking as we knew the department did not have jurisdiction over a non-Muslim religious outlet, but they insisted on entering our outlet."

Mr Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad, Jais director, said last week that letters were issued to all Selangor churches to remind them to obey a 1988 state enactment banning non-Muslims from using the word "Allah".

The enactment, which was passed by the previous Barisan Nasional state government, prohibits non-Muslims in Selangor from using 35 Arabic words and phrases, including "Allah", "Nabi" (prophet), "Injil" (gospel) and "Insya'Allah" (God willing).

The sultan of Selangor, who like other rulers are regarded as the custodians of Islam in the state, has also decreed that non-Muslims should not use the word "Allah."

But non-Muslim groups in Selangor have continued to use the word for their Malay-language publications.

Selangor police chief Mohd Shukri Dahlan said yesterday that police would record a statement from Father Lawrence for allegedly saying that all churches in the state would use the word in reference to God.

Some Christians now fear that the Islamic authorities in other states will take the cue from their Selangor counterparts.

"It confirms the fear that Malaysians are having that Islamic reach is getting greater and growing by the day," Reverend Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM), said in response to developments yesterday.

He also said the CCM believed that the Islamic authorities did not have the authority by law to enter the premises of non-Muslim religious establishments for inspections, searches or raids.

Rev Hermen and Mr Lee, the Bible Society president, however, urged Christians to remain calm. The state government official in charge of Islamic Affairs, Mr Sallehin Mukhyi, said he did not know of the raid beforehand.

Selangor officials have in the past said that Jais, although under the jurisdiction of the Pakatan state government, operated independently.


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