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321 Bibles seized by Malaysia’s Islamic authorities

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Islamic authorities in Malaysia seized 321 Bibles from a Christian group because they used the word Allah to refer to God, signalling growing intolerance that may inflame ethnic and religious tension in the Southeast Asian country.

The raid, which took place Thursday in capital Kuala Lumpur, comes after a Malaysian court in October ruled that the Arabic word was exclusive to Muslims, most of whom are ethnic Malays, the largest ethnic group in the country alongside sizable Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities.

That ruling then overturned a court decision that allowed a Roman Catholic newspaper printed in Malay, the country’s national language, to use Allah.

The change has heightened concern that religious authorities, which issue rulings for Muslims and operate alongside civil courts, now have more legal muscle.

‘Allah’ controversy called a diversion

Analysts say new rulings that affect non-Muslims could be a way of deflecting anger against Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government from poor Malay Muslims over subsidy cuts likely to force up electricity, gas and sugar prices.

On Thursday, the top Islamic authority in the richest and most populous state of Selangor seized the Malay-language Bibles from the Bible Society. The society said authority officials escorted two of its officials to a police station to make statements after which they were released on bail.

“We were told that we were under investigation for breaking a Selangor state law banning non-Muslims from using the word Allah,” said Bible Society of Malaysia chairman Lee Min Choon.

The raid is a marked escalation from the occasional seizure at border checkpoints of Bibles imported from Indonesia. It was the first time Islamic authorities have entered premises belonging to a Christian organization to carry out a raid.

Christians from Malaysia’s rural states of Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo, who have used the word Allah for centuries, have moved in droves to Selangor and other parts of peninsular Malaysia in recent years to look for work.

No unauthorized use of ‘Allah’

The main political party within Najib’s ruling coalition, the United Malays National Organization, said its Selangor members would protest at all churches in the state on Sunday against unauthorized use of the word Allah.

“There are laws in Selangor and there was a decree by his Royal Highness the Sultan. So what they are doing is carrying out the Sultan’s decree,” Deputy Prime Minister and UMNO Deputy President Muhyiddin Yassin was quoted by media as saying.

“They are not doing anything against the law.”

The Sultan of Selangor, one of nine sultans who serve in turn as titular Malaysian head of state, decreed last year that non-Muslims must refrain from using Allah in Bibles. He asked Muslims to unite against “bad elements” that misuse the word.

The increasingly assertive stand by holders of the largely ceremonial office show that Muslim leaders have become increasingly vocal about their role in defending Islam.

In 2010, arsonists firebombed several churches over the initial ruling that allowed the Catholic newspaper to use the Arabic word. Two Malay men were found guilty for setting fire to one of the churches.

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Why Were These Students Forced to Eat in the Bathroom During Ramadan?

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Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Non-Muslim children in a Malaysian primary school were forced to have lunch in the facility’s change room whilst their classmates fasted during Ramadan. Pictures of ethnic Chinese and Indian (usually Christian or Hindu) children were posted on the internet by one of the mothers, Guneswari Kelly, causing an uproar among politicians and Muslims opposed to unhygienic segregation.

On her Facebook page, Kelly Guneswari wrote that staff at the Sri Pristana School, in suburban Kuala Lumpur, told non-Muslim children to eat in the school’s bathroom and not in the canteen. “Is this fair? Can [a national school] treat [non-Muslim pupils] like this” during Ramadan?

After being informed, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin ordered an investigation into the matter, saying he would take action.

School officials have not released any statement, but Jehan Bakar, a Muslim woman lawyer and mother of two, said she was “horrified” by the segregation of non-Muslim children. Our “religion does not dictate this,” she insisted.

In fact Islam does not ask non-Muslims to fast or hide, but in many Islamic countries, Christians, Hindus or people of other religions are asked (and sometimes forced) not to eat in public or are not allow to eat at all during the fasting period, which runs from dawn to dusk.

In Malaysia, there are often signs of impatience towards Islamic rules that are often applied in a very restrictive way. Recently, a Chinese couple was accused of sedition for posting online a Ramadan greeting that showed them eating pork, which is forbidden in Islam.

In 2010, the principal of a secondary school in the state of Kedah accused ethnic Chinese students of being insensitive towards their Muslim classmates because they ate at school during Ramadan, telling them to “return to China” if they could not respect the culture of other ethnic groups.

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