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Malaysia seizes Christian books

January 22, 2008

By Elizabeth Eldridge – Malaysian authorities confiscated Christian
children’s books, claiming the illustrations of prophets such as Moses and
Abraham violate Islamic Shariah law.

The independent news agency Malaysakini reported the Internal Security
Ministry confiscated the literature from bookstores in two cities and one
small town in mid-December.

The Malaysian Embassy declined to comment on the news service’s Jan. 11

The Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Malaysian Council of
Churches, confirmed the report and accused the government of persecuting

“The officials have offended the sensitivities of Christians because their
publications and depictions of their Biblical personalities have now become
targets of unscrupulous Muslim officials bent on curtailing religious
freedom in the country,” Mr. Shastri said.

“Immediate steps should be taken to amend administrative rules and
regulations, especially in the Internal Security Ministry, that give a free
hand to enforcement officials to act on their whim and fancies,” he said.

Christians, Hindus and other religious groups in Malaysia say they are
increasingly being targeted as the nation gradually cedes jurisdiction to
Shariah courts.

The U.S. State Department estimates that about 60 percent of Malaysians are
Muslim, with the remainder being Christians, Buddhists, Hindus or belonging
to other sects.

The books confiscated from Johor Bahru, Senawang and Ipoh offended the
sensibilities of Muslims, officials say, because Islam forbids the depiction
of prophets.

Islam forbids images of the prophet Muhammad, but other images such as
portraits of early Muslim leaders Ali and Hussein, the prophet’s son-in-law
and grandson, respectively, are common in Shi’ite Islam.

The books were confiscated by officials from the Publications and Koran
Texts Control Department, a division of the Internal Security Ministry
headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

The prime minister is an Islamic scholar who promotes the concept of “Islam
Hadhari” or “Islamic Civilization. ”

Bernama, the Malaysian National News Agency, reported last week that Mr.
Badawi stated the West should acknowledge there are civilizations today that
continue to uphold religious values in the public sphere, even if many
Western governments and societies do not.

In remarks to a forum in Madrid called the Alliance of Civilization, he also
said Islam is a religion that respects religious and cultural diversity.

The Malaysian government last month also banned the use of the name “Allah”
in any religion other than Islam, local press reports said.

Allah, the Arabic word for “God,” is used by both Christians and Muslims
throughout the Arab world.

Christian and Sikh religious literature in Malaysia often uses Allah to
refer to God.

Church leaders have filed complaints in civil courts arguing that the Allah
rule infringes on religious freedom.

A string of prominent religious conversion cases recently has been
criticized for granting special privileges to Muslims in the multiethnic and
ostensibly secular nation.

Article 3 of the Federal Constitution states the official religion of
Malaysia is Islam, but Article 11 protects the right to religious freedom.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled Friday that the wife of a Christian
Malaysian who died Dec. 30 could be buried by her husband.

The ruling overturned a decision by the Federal Islamic Territorial Council,
which claimed the woman converted to Islam six days before she died.

The High Court hearing marked a departure from civil court precedents in
which Islamic matters are typically ceded to Shariah courts.

Angela Wu, the International Law Director of the Becket Fund for Religious
Liberty, called the procedure a “horrible Catch-22.”

“The civil courts are saying they aren’t competent to decide whether someone
is a Muslim where Islamic interests are invoked,” Ms. Wu said.

“Only the Shariah courts can decide whether you are a Muslim – and the
Shariah courts will not hear the testimony of non-Muslims. ”

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