Pornography, Communism and non-orthodox Islam

News reports in 2009 said that Malaysian authorities had confiscated more than 15,000 Bibles in recent months because they referred to "God" as "Allah," a translation that has been banned in the Muslim-majority country. The authorities assert that this usage is offensive to Muslims. Argument about this continues in Malaysia politics and law.

In the 1970s, I was a librarian in Malaysia, responsible for importing large numbers of English-language books for a public library service. I regularly attended the Customs warehouse, nervously watching as Special Branch police officers (no less!) went through parcels of books I had ordered. Prohibited categories were: pornography (widely interpreted), Communism (which was also taken to include almost anything about China), and non-orthodox Islam, as decided by the local Islamic Council. Maybe a Christian Bible containing the word Allah would not have been allowed.

The general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, said authorities seized a consignment of 10,000 copies sent from Jakarta to Kuching in Sarawak state on Sept. 11 because the Indonesian-language Bibles contained the word "Allah." The Bible Society of Malaysia says another 5,100 Bibles from Indonesia, were seized in March. Indonesian is very similar to the Malaysian language; use "Allah" as a translation for "God" in both Islamic and Christian traditions.

Malaysia has banned non-Muslims from using the word "Allah" in their texts, saying the word is Islamic and may upset Muslims. The Roman Catholic Church is challenging the "Allah" ban in court, saying it is unconstitutional and discriminates against those worshipping in the Malaysian language (Bahasa Malaysia). The case has been stuck in preliminary hearings for almost two years.

The Council of Churches has been concerned at the continued denial of the Bible to the growing number of worshipers in the Bahasa Malaysia national language. Christians have been using the word "Allah" for a long time as an Arabic word, they say, that predates Islam. Christian Arabs have no other word for God, although many today use terms such as Allāh al-ʼAb "God the Father" to distinguish from Muslim usage. An alternative is the Malay word "Tuhan", which means " Lord" rather than "God".

Will anyone want to print (and read) Bibles for Malaysians with this one (very important) word changed?