The battle over Bibles continues in Malaysia. In January 2011, port authorities confiscated 30,000 Bibles that a branch of Gideons International had ordered. Government officials claimed the Bibles caused a conflict with an ongoing court case involving use of the word “Allah” in a Catholic newspaper. But most Christians believe the government is worried that the Bibles will be distributed to Muslim Malays.
In Malaysia, the ethnic Malay people are Muslim, while the ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysian people are Christian, Hindu or Muslim. It is illegal for Malay people to convert to another religion, and it is illegal for anyone to share information about another religion with a Malay person. Malays make up 50 percent of the population in Malaysia. Chinese Malaysians make up 24 percent, Indian Malaysians make up 7 percent and the rest of the population is composed of other ethnic groups.
Restrictions on Bible importation are not new in Malaysia. In 2009, officials impounded 5,000 Bibles at another port. After this recent confiscation of 30,000 Bibles, Christians demanded that the Bibles be released. Conscious of upcoming elections next month, the government eventually decided all 35,000 impounded Bibles could be released on condition that they be stamped with a serial number and the inscription “For Christians Only” on the cover.
Christian leaders in Malaysia have refused the government’s terms, fearing the government would use the serial numbers to track the Bibles and penalize those who accepted them. For now, the Malaysian Bible Society has rejected the restrictions placed on the Bibles and is refusing to collect them.