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Threat to Burn Bibles in Wake of Sultans Ban on word “Allah”

January 30, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Woman Praying

A threat issued last week to burn Bibles in the Malay language is the latest in a series of attacks on the Christian faith in Malaysia. The event was supposed to occur in Butterworth, which is on the mainland of Malaysia across from the tourist island resort of Penang. Political observers agree that the issue has been reignited because of a looming general election. The State of Selangor, in which Butterworth is located, is wealthy and boasts a world-class infrastructure. It is a “must-win” State for the opposition in the upcoming election, to be held within three months. The event ultimately fizzled out due to lack of participation, but it had the desired effect of adding to the anxiety of Malaysian Christians.

The attempted uprising appears to have been spawned by the long dispute over the use of the name Allah for God in Malay Bibles. In a January edict, the Sultan of the State of Selangor forbade Christians from using the name Allah, defying practice and convention in the country, as well as a 2009 court ruling. Malay Muslims claim Allah is a sacred name for God to be used only in Islam. Christians note that the Arabic term for God has been used in Malay Bibles for more than 400 years and was used in religious and cultural contexts before Islam was established.

At the root of the Allah tug-of-war is the belief that Muslims in Malaysia might be confused if Christians also use the word to describe God. In a 2009 case over Catholics’ right to use the term in published material, the High Court of Malaysia ruled that use of the term Allah was legally authorized for Muslims and non-Muslims alike; but clearly, that has not ended the debate. Anger over the 2009 verdict led to fire-bombings and vandalism targeted at churches and Christian-run schools. Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who has espoused a policy of One Malaysia, visited affected sites and offered Government funding to repair the damage. The Government, nevertheless, appealed the High Court ruling to appease irate Malaysian Muslims. The case is still pending in the Appeals Court.

The recent threat to burn Bibles was first made by an extremist rightwing Malaysian Muslim group called Perkasa, which has links to the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Perkasa’s leader is Datuk Ibrahim Ali, a Member of Parliament. A note sent to a Christian priest in Butterworth last week announced a Bible-burning pesta or festival would take place in the town’s public park on Sunday. The note, written in Malay, ended with a sinister warning in English-“Let’s teach ’em a lesson.” The police were informed of the threat; thankfully, the Bible burning did not occur.

However, the sense atmosphere of persecution has intensified in recent years and this latest threat has added to it. Restrictions on church building, pressure on Malaysian Muslims to boycott religious festivities of their Christian friends, and charges of apostasy leveled against Muslims converting to Christianity are among the common forms of political and religious intimidation.

The Sultan’s edict was the first setback for the Christian community this year. Malaysian Christians, who form only 9.2 per cent of a population of 28 million, say their anguish is profound as their faith is again under attack. They say that the threat to hold a Bible-burning festival flies in the face of the spirit of a once-famed harmonious multiracial and multi-religious country where the Federal Constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

In the words of a Malay proverb, “When two elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” Malay Christians say their plight leaves them feeling that they are yet again being trodden on.

Father, may Your name be lifted high in Malaysia. Debate over whether You are called by the English name God or the Arabic name Allah has clouded the real issue-that You are the One True and Living God over all the earth. The Christians of Malaysia feel that they have been trampled on; we call on Your Spirit to revive them, to strengthen their faith, to embolden them to stand for Your truth, to humble them to have compassion for their Muslim neighbors living in the darkness of Islam. And we pray that Your Spirit would dispel the spiritual darkness and draw countless people to believe in Christ, to worship and exalt Your name. In the name of Jesus, God incarnate, Amen.

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