Islamic authorities seized 321 Bibles from a Christian Bible group in Malaysia because they used the word “Allah” to refer to God, following an October ruling that the world Allah could only be used by Muslims.
"We were told that we were under investigation for breaking a Selangor state law banning non-Muslims from using the word Allah," said Lee Min Choon, chairman of the Bible Society of Malaysia in the state of Selangor, Reuters reported.
The incident highlights mounting tensions between Christians and Muslims in Malaysia, a country with an ethnic Malay Muslim majority with its own legal system that operates alongside the civil court system of the country’s significant Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist minorities.
Occasionally Islamic authorities raid border checkpoints to seize Bibles brought in from Indonesia, but the Selangor raid is the first time authorities have entered the premises of a Christian organization to do so.
"There are laws in Selangor and there was a decree by his Royal Highness the Sultan. So what they are doing is carrying out the Sultan's decree," Deputy Prime Minister and UMNO Deputy President of the ruling United Malays National Organisation coalition Muhyiddin Yassin told media.
"They are not doing anything against the law."
Malaysia’s Council of Churches, on the other hand, said in a statement Thursday that it “believes that Islamic authorities do not have the authority in law to enter the premises of non-Muslim religious establishments for inspection, search, or, raid,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
The October court ruling overturned a 2009 decision that permitted the use of the world Allah by Christians, allowing a Roman Catholic newspaper printed in Malay to use the world, as is common linguistic practice in Malaysia.
Islam, which was historically practiced fairly moderated in Malaysia, is becoming more extreme in the country as conservative Muslims gain ground.
Analysts believe that the Bible raids may be meant to deflect attention from Prime Minister Najib Razak's subsidy cuts for poor Malay Muslims over subsidy cuts, which will probably raise prices on electricity, petrol and sugar.