ISLAMIC authorities in Malaysia on Thursday seized 321 Bibles from a Christian group because they used the word Allah to refer to God, signaling a growing intolerance that may inflame ethnic and religious tension in the Southeast Asian country.
The raid comes after a Malaysian court in October ruled that the Arabic word was exclusive to Muslims, most of whom are ethnic Malays, the largest ethnic group in the country alongside sizeable Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities.
That ruling overturned a court decision that allowed a Roman Catholic newspaper printed in Malay, the country’s national language, to use Allah.
The change has heightened concern that religious authorities, which issue rulings for Muslims and operate alongside civil courts, now have more legal muscle.
Analysts say new rulings that affect non-Muslims could be a way of deflecting anger against Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government from poor Malay Muslims over subsidy cuts likely to force up electricity, petrol and sugar prices.
The top Islamic authority in the richest and most populous state of Selangor seized the Malay-language Bibles from the Bible Society. The society said authority officials escorted two of its officials to a police station to make statements after which they were released on bail.
“We were told that we were under investigation for breaking a Selangor state law banning non-Muslims from using the word Allah,” said Bible Society of Malaysia Chairman Lee Min Choon.
The raid is a marked escalation from the occasional seizure at border checkpoints of Bibles imported from Indonesia. It was the first time Islamic authorities have entered premises belonging to a Christian organization to carry out a raid.