Malaysian Muslims Threaten to Hold Bible Burning Festival

 Threat to burn Bibles in wake of Sultan’s ban on word ‘Allah’

ICC Note: For more than 400 years Malay Christians have used the Arabic word for God, Allah, in Christian writings and Malay language Bibles. However an Islamic Sultan in Malaysia recently issued a Fatwa forbidding the use of Allah by Christians. Now threats are coming in from various Islamic groups threatening to burn Bibles, increasing pressure on Christians to back down over the issue.     

01/24/2013 Malaysia (WWM) – A threat this week to burn Bibles in the Malay language is the latest in a series of attacks on the Christian faith in Malaysia.

A note sent to a Christian priest in Butterworth on Tuesday, 22nd January 2013 said a Bible-burning pesta or festival would take place in the town’s public park on Sunday [27th January]. Butterworth is sited on the mainland across from the tourist island resort of Penang. The note, written in Malay, ends with a sinister warning in English: “Let’s teach ‘em a lesson.” The police have been informed of the threat.

Whether the threat will materialise is uncertain but it has had the desired effect of adding to the despair of Malaysian Christians. A fortnight ago the Sultan of the State of Selangor forbade Christians from using the word ‘Allah’, defying practice and convention in the country. The Arabic term for God, in usage in religious and cultural contexts before the dawn of Islam, has been used in Bibles in the Malay language and litany for more than 400 years.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia, an ecumenical umbrella body, in a press release described the latest Bible-burning threat as “abhorrent”. Bishop Ng Moon Hing, chairman of the organisation, which comprises the Council of Churches of Malaysia, the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, said: “We call on those who desire to foment hatred for political gain to cease and desist from such a vile act.” He hoped and prayed that “good sense would prevail”.

The threat to burn Bibles was first made last weekend by an extremist rightwing Malaysian Muslim group called Perkasa which has links to the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno). Perkasa’s leader is a Member of Parliament Datuk Ibrahim Ali.

At the root of the Allah tug-of-war is the official view that Muslims in Malaysia might be confused if Christians also use the word to describe God. The controversy first surfaced in 2009 when the Herald, a Malaysian Catholic weekly newspaper with a circulation of 14,000, mounted a legal challenge against the Government; it had been ordered to stop using the word Allah or risk losing its publishing licence.

In December 2009 the High Court ruled that Allah was not restricted to Muslims and the Catholic Church had the right to publish the word in the Malay language section of its weekly. (The Malaysia Chronicle reports that Perkasa was founded in the wake of this ruling and that the group staged protests at several mosques, as did Umno groups).

The 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 against the High Court ruling to appease Malays. The case is pending in the Appeals Court.

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.

They say their plight leaves them feeling that they are yet again being trodden on: to quote the Malay proverb “When two elephants [or in this case political foes] fight, the grass gets trampled.”

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