Native Bible
Government moves to prohibit the use of the word "Allah", the Malay language word adapted from Arabic for God, and seizes 321 native-language Bibles from the Bible Society of Malaysia. Reuters

Malaysian Islamic authorities have seized more than 300 copies of the Bible from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), over the use of the word "Allah" in native translations.

BSM was accused of violating the law by using the word "Allah" to refer to God in Bahasa and Iban language Bibles.

Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) officers, accompanied by two policemen, raided the Society's offices and carried away 321 copies of the Bible.

Two members of the BSM council were detained and taken to a local police station, but released later on bail.

The controversy over the word "Allah" goes back to 2008 when The Herald, a Catholic weekly, was barred by the home ministry from using the Arabic word.

The Catholic Church argued that it has used the word to refer to God for centuries and that the home ministry's ruling violated the believers' rights.

The Church contested this 'law' in the High Court, which ruled in the Church's favour in 2009 and upheld its constitutional right to use the word.

The decision was challenged in the Court of Appeal, which overturned the earlier judgment and ruled that "Allah was not integral to the Christian faith", the Malaysian Insider had reported.

The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the ruling political party, said that its Jais members would protest at all churches in the state of Selangor against the unauthorised use of the word Allah, according to Reuters.

"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," said Muhyiddin Yassin, Deputy Prime Minister and UMNO Deputy President.

Bahasa and Iban language Bibles
Two copies of the Bible in Malay (L) and the Iban dialect are seen in this picture illustration taken in Kuala Lumpur January 2, 2014. Reuters

However, the Bible Society maintains that they have done nothing against the law by using the word "Allah" in local translations.

The Society said the word "Allah" in the Bible "is nothing new and should not come as a surprise, this is what we do, import Bibles containing the word as allowed in the 10-point solution made by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala".

"We were told that we were under investigation for breaking a Selangor state law banning non-Muslims from using the word Allah," Lee Min Choon, Chairman BSM, told Reuters.

"BSM is of the view that this action contravenes a host of legal provisions, including that of the Federal Constitution. This is a sad day, heralding the erosion of minority rights," he added.

The Council of Churches of Malaysia said in a statement it was "alarmed" by the raid and urged the government to "protect religious rights as provided under the Federal Constitution".

The raid is unusual as it was the first time Islamic authorities entered the premises belonging to a Christian organisation to seize Bibles.

Analysts also say the new rulings could be a way of covering up other unpopular measures by Prime Minister Najib Razak's government, such as subsidy cuts for electricity, petrol and sugar, which are expected to hit the poor in the country.

The recent events have raised concern that Islamic law is gaining dominance over the civil courts in Malaysia.