By BosNewsLife Asia Service
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (BosNewsLife)-- Malaysian Christians on Thursday, March 17, awaited two shipments of 35,000 confiscated Bibles after the government promised to release them.
The Bibles were seized by authorities in Malaysia's Kuching Port because of the use "Allah" as a translation for "God," which officials said many Muslims find objectionable. About 60 percent of Malaysians are Sunni Muslim, which is the nation's official religion, although the constitution also guarantees freedom of religion.
But in a new development, the Performance Management and Delivery Unit, which impounded one shipment of 5,000 Bibles in 2009 and another 30,000 in January, said the language issue should be resolved through discussion.
The agency's chief executive officer, Datuk Seri Idris Jala, who is Christian, has been designated as the point man for talks with the Christian community, the English-language Malaysian newspaper The Star reported.
Malaysia's Home Ministry, which oversees the dispute, initially justified withholding the Bibles saying there was a legal case under appeal that needed to be resolved.
It was a reference to the ruling by Kuala Lumpur's High Court in December 2009 that allowed the Catholic newspaper, The Herald, to use the word Allah as a translation for God.
No appeal hearings have yet been scheduled, but dozens of churches and a few Muslim prayer halls were attacked and burned in the wake of the initial 2009 ruling.
The Prime Minister's office reportedly said the government chose to release the Bibles because it was "committed to resolve amicably any inter-faith issues".
Christians said among the shipments are tens of thousands of copies of the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs in the Malay language. Distributor Gideons International imported the books from Indonesia for distribution in schools, churches and other institutions in
Betong and other Christian areas in Malaysia's Sarawak state. It comes ahead of local elections in the area, which has a significant Christian population and where the governing National Front parties need to increase electoral support, analysts said.
Reverend Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, welcomed the government's decision to release the Bibles, but cautioned in published remarks that more needed to be done."We maintain the position that it is an inalienable right for Christians to read their scriptures in any language," he explained, adding this was a "basic human right".
Under Malaysian law, Bibles distributed in the country must be stamped "for Christians only."
Christians comprise about nine percent of the mainly Muslin population of nearly 29 million people. About 19 percent of Malaysians practice Buddhism. Among other religious minorities are practitioners of Chinese religions and philosophies, Hinduism and other traditional faiths.