The main Christian grouping in Muslim-majority Malaysia said Thursday it was "fed up" with the government's refusal to allow the distribution of tens of thousands of Bibles, saying this was an affront to religious freedoms.
The rare rebuke by the Christian Federation of Malaysia signals growing impatience among the religious minority in a years-old dispute over the government's ban on the use of the word "Allah" as a translation for God in Malay-language Bibles and religious texts.
The federation's chairman, Bishop Ng Moon Hing, said authorities are currently holding 30,000 Malay-language Bibles at a port on Borneo island. This was one of the latest attempts by Christians to import such Bibles, mainly from Indonesia, but none has been successful since March 2009. There are no similar problems with English-language texts.
Christians were "greatly disillusioned, fed up and angered by the repeated detention of Bibles," the federation said in a statement. "It would appear as if the authorities are waging a continuous, surreptitious and systematic program against Christians in Malaysia to deny them access to the Bible" in the Malay language.
Home Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment, but the government has repeatedly denied being unfair. In another recent incident, the ministry acknowledged it had barred the entry of imported Bibles but denied they were seized, saying the importer had simply failed to claim them from the port.
The trouble stems from the government's stance that the use of "Allah" in non-Muslim texts could confuse Muslims and even entice them to convert. Nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's 28 million people are Malay Muslims, while 25 percent are ethnic Chinese and 8 percent are Indians. Ethnic minorities are mostly Christian, Buddhist or Hindu.
A court ruled in December 2009 that Christians have the constitutional right to use the word "Allah." The government has appealed the verdict, but no hearings have been scheduled.
The dispute caused a brief surge in tensions in January 2010, when 11 churches were attacked by firebombs amid anger among some Muslims over the court ruling.