International Christian Concern | August 19, 2020
In Malaysia, the Bahasa language, which is spoken by the majority, does not have a Bible readily available. The authorities in Malaysia have seized more than 20,000 Bibles in recent years, as the reference made to God in these Bibles are printed as “Allah,” a term considered offensive in the Muslim-majority country.
These Bibles were written in the country’s official language, Malay – in which the word for God is “Allah,” as it is in Arabic. However, the Malaysian government claims the word “Allah” is exclusive to Islam and that its use in Christian publications is likely to confuse Muslims and draw them to Christianity.
Among the Bibles confiscated were the Malay-language ones that the Bible Society of Malaysia had imported from Indonesia. Approximately 10,000 others also were confiscated from Gideons International, which places free copies in hotel rooms and elsewhere.
While ethnic Chinese Malaysian Christians can obtain Bibles in Mandarin without difficulties, historically the government has placed more red tape around the Malay Bibles.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi clarified in April 2005 that there was no ban on Bibles translated into Malay. However, they are required to be stamped with a disclaimer: “Not for Muslims.” The word translated in English as “God” is translated as “Allah” in some Malay Bibles, which is illegal as non-Muslims are prohibited from using the term “Allah.”
In 2007, customs officers and Home Ministry officials detained the Alkitab (Malay Bible) at ports of entry and confiscated the publications, Sunday school children’s books, and CDs. This has led to Sidang Injil Borneo Dec 2007 and Jill Ireland Binti Lawrence Bill in July 2008 initiating a judicial review against the power of the Home Minister.
In March 2010, the Malaysian Home Ministry seized 30,000, and in March 2011 another 5,000 Malay Bibles from a port in Kuching, Sarawak.
Recently, reports on the unofficial ban on the special papers used in the printing of Bibles in Malaysia have emerged. Because of their length, Bibles are generally printed on very thin paper in order to achieve a suitably compact book. Nevertheless, irrespective of how thick or thin it is, paper in a Bible should have sufficient strength to sustain the usage it will receive. The best Bibles are printed on papers which are not only much thinner and finer than ordinary book papers, but are also strong and have sufficient opacity to minimize ‘show-through’ from printing on the reverse side. Paper of 30gsm or less in weight – ‘20lb paper’ in the U.S. – is usually described as ‘India paper’ and over 30gsm as ‘Bible paper.’
In light of the above, the Malaysian government has prohibited the entry of such papers as they are aware that it is mainly used for printing Bibles. Christian groups had to smuggle the Bahasa Bibles printed in another Asian country and brought secretly into the country. Many Christians believe this recent strategy is the latest in the government’s efforts for the “progressive restriction of religious freedom” in Malaysia.
The following laws have come into effect to ensure that those caught printing or distributing Bibles in the local Bahasa language, can be arrested and their printing permits revoked.
- 1981 The Alkitab (Malay Bible) was banned – Absolutely by order under the Internal Security (Prohibition of Publications) (No. 3) Order made on 2nd December 1981 (KHEDN : 0 59/3/9/Jld 4; PN (PU2) 24 pt. 11). “The printing, publication, sale, issue, circulation or possession of the publication which are described in the Schedule and prejudicial to the national interest and security of the Federation are prohibited absolutely throughout Malaysia.”
- 1982 The Alkitab (Malay Bible) was banned by order under the Internal Security (Prohibition of Publications) (No. 4) Order made on 22nd March 1982 (KHEDN: 0 59/3/9/A; PN (PU2) 24 Pt. 11). “The printing, publication, sale, issue, circulation or possession of the publication which are described in the Schedule and prejudicial to the national interest and security of the Federation are possession or use in Churches of such publication by persons, professing the Christian religion, throughout Malaysia.”
It is also important to understand that while the Malay Bible can be used by the tribal communities who speak Bahasa as their main language, mostly residing in Sarawak and Sabah, 60% of the Malay Muslims who speak Bahasa as their mother tongue and our national language, cannot own a Bible. This situation presents a challenge to evangelism, as Muslim-background believers face a shortage of Scripture.
As tens of thousands of Muslims are coming to Christ in Malaysia, please pray that God’s Word in print can one day be available to all of them.