Calls to burn Bibles in Malaysia made “in defence of Islam”

The Malaysian government says calls by a politician for Bibles to be burned were made “in the defence of Islam” and he won’t be prosecuted.

Ibrahim Ali, head of far-right Malay political group Perkasa called for Muslims to burn copies of Bibles which contained the term “Allah” for God in January 2013. The call came at the height of religious tension in Malaysia, during a long legal battle for the right of Christians to use the term “Allah” in the Bible to refer to God.

The Perkasa group champions the rights of the ethnic Malay Muslim majority. Ibrahim’s call for Muslims to seize and burn copies of the Bible containing “Allah” was met with widespread criticism, including from Penang’s Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng. Lim pushed for “stringent measures to prevent such abhorrent and vile acts that would endanger national harmony and heighten religious tensions,”  amidst calls for Ibrahim to be charged under Malaysia’s Sedition Act.

In parliament this week, Lim asked why Ibrahim had not been charged with sedition. In her written response, Malaysia’s de facto Law Minister Nancy Shukri said that a police probe into Ibrahim’s Bible-burning call was “not intended to create religious chaos but was only to defend the sanctity of Islam”. Therefore, no prosecution was carried out.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia has said in a statement that they are “outraged at the fact that threats to burn our Holy Bible are considered an act in defence of Islam”.

CFM said the decision not to prosecute Ibrahim gave “carte blanche or free rein to other extremists to do likewise, not just to Christians but to any other religious community that is not Muslim.”

Religious tension in Malaysia has increased over the past several years. Earlier this year, Malaysia’s highest court upheld a government ban holding that non-Muslims could not use the term “Allah” in their publications. The word “Allah” has been continuously used in Malay Bibles to refer to God since the first translation of Matthew’s Gospel in 1629.

But Malaysian government officials claimed use of “Allah” in a Christian publication may confuse the country’s Muslims and cause them to convert to Christianity.

In January this year, a Bible Society office in Malaysia was raided by Malaysian Islamic authorities and over 300 Bibles containing the word “Allah” were confiscated.

Bible Society Malaysia President Bishop Datuk Ng Moon Hing told Malay Mail this month that the organisation hoped to regain the seized Bibles after the Attorney-General’s decision that there was no legal basis for the raid.

The Bibles have still not been returned, and previous BSM president Lee Min Choon said in June that the return of the Bibles would be “an admission that [The Islamic Authority, JAIS] was wrong…” and a massive blow to JAIS image and prestige.

In August this year, Eternity spoke with Bible Society Malaysia about the challenges of operating as a Christian organisation amidst the rising tensions. Read the interview here.