Sarawak state leader calls for calm after Bible seizure

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - A senior government leader of Malaysia's mainly Christian state Sarawak has appealed for calm after mainland police seized Bibles.

Daud Abdul Rahman, assistant minister in the Chief Minister's Office for Islamic Affairs, said the Sarawak state government won't be seizing Bibles, The Borneo Post reported.

"I can assure you that the government will not seize Bibles in the state because we really appreciate the spirit of tolerance," he said.

"Christians in the state have been using Bibles for more than a century and the government has never seized them," Daud told The Post in the state capital Kuching.

Of all Malaysia's 13 states, only in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, are Christians the largest religious group.

They make up around 44 percent, of the Sarawak's 2.4 million population and Muslims account for 30 percent. Buddhists are nearly 14 percent of the population and Chinese ethnic religions make up 6 percent.

Daud's comments come after a Selangor state religious department raided the offices of the Bible Society of Malaysia in the township of Damansara Jan. 2 and confiscated about 340 Bibles that used the word "Allah" for "God."

The seized materials comprised 310 copies of Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia, or Al-Kitab, 20 copies in the Iban language, also known as Bup Kudus, and 20 copies of Luke's Gospel in Bahasa Malaysia.

Daud also called on Sarawak's politicians not to use the Bible seizure for political gain, The Post reported.

"We don't want what is happening there [peninsular Malaysia] to spread to the state. What is happening there doesn't involve the state Sarawak government."

Selangor, which surrounds the federal capital district of Kuala Lumpur, is Malaysia's richest and most populous state.

The 2010 census shows Christians make up about 4 percent of the Selangor's 5.4 million people. Muslims account for 60 percent, Buddhists 25 percent and Hindus make up just under 12 percent.

Police officers accompanying the raid by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department, JAIS, arrested bible society President Lee Min Choon and two other officials.

They were detained briefly for violating a 1988 state law that prohibits non-Muslims from using the word "Allah" and 34 other Arabic words and phrases, the Malay Daily Online reported. .

A statement from the society, which prints and distributes Bibles, called on Christians in Selangor "to remain calm and to display their best Christian character and virtues of love and forgiveness in this situation."

Confiscation of the Bibles has caused embarrassment for the Selangor state government, whose leaders have demanded an explanation from JAIS, The Star Online reported.

Selangor State Executive Councillor for Islamic Affairs, Sallehin Mukyi, said JAIS has said only it forgot to inform him of the raid ahead of time.

"JAIS also claimed that it conducted the raid after it felt there was a breach in the 1988 enactment, which touches on the use of the word Allah."

Sallehin said his department needed to listen to both sides -- JAIS and the society -- before reporting to the Mentri Besar, chief executive of the state government.