01/22/2008, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Christian children’s books seized for showing pictures of Muhammad

Internal Security Ministry issues the order on the grounds the images of the prophet offend Islam. The incriminating texts are currently being examined by the authorities. Controversy over the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non Muslims continues. Christian leaders slam the government for overstepping every bound.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Malaysian authorities have confiscated some Christian children’s books from bookstores because they contained images of Muhammad. The Malysiakini news agency reported that the order came from the Internal Security Ministry headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. The reason: illustrations of the prophet offend the religious feelings of the Muslim majority.

According to the local press, the Publications and Al-Quran Texts Control Department in the Internal Security Ministry had already seized such books from three bookstores in Johor Bahru, Senawang and Ipoh in mid-December.

The books are now at the Department’s headquarters in Putrajaya for investigation, but despite the seizure the books have not yet been officially banned from sale.

Leaders in the Christian community have reacted angrily. In a press release, Hermen Shastri, general-secretary of the Council of Churches Malaysia, slammed the decision.

Shastri said government officials “have no right [to seize the books] and have overstepped their bounds by confiscating Christian literature.”

He urged the prime minister and the government to take immediate action to put a stop to such seizures and to “amend administrative rules and regulations especially in the Internal Security Ministry that give a free hand to enforcement officials to act at their whim and fancies.”

At the same time, the debate over whether non-Muslims can use the word “Allah” in publications and religious practice continues.

Badawi’ Internal Security Ministry has reportedly confiscated a total of 163 publications across the country.

Deputy Internal Ministry Minister Johari Baharum said that the ministry did not target Christian books per se, but he did reiterate that not only Allah (Arabic for God) is exclusive to Islam but so are baitullah (mosque in Makkah), solat (prayer) and kaabah (Islamic shrine in Makkah).

At the start of January the Herald, a catholic weekly, was told it could not use the word ‘Allah’ to refer to the God of the Christians.

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