Muslim-majority Malaysia has banned 35 books considered “detrimental to public peace,” including a translation of the Bible and some Muslim titles.
The ethnic Iban people, once known as the headhunters of Borneo Island, say the ban has caused anxiety and confusion among church congregations, according to the official Bernama news agency.
Peter Chung, archbishop of Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state, said the authorities have not said why the Iban language bible was banned.
“We have not received any explanation,” he said.
The Sarawak Tribune News said the ethnic Scripture translation, published by the Bible Society of Malaysia, has been banned because it allegedly contains several words that could be confused with others.
In the past, Malaysian Islamic leaders have raised objections over certain terms used in Christian publications that they believe could cause confusion, such as “Allah.”
The Iban Bible, which has been available for 15 years, is among twelve Christian books banned. Other forbidden Christian books – all in the national language, Bahasa Malaysia – include titles by well-known authors J.I. Packer and John R.W. Stott.
The English versions of those books are not banned, however.
The Malaysian opposition Democratic Action Party issued a statement last week asserting that the Bible ban “infringes on the rights of Ibans to practice their religion.”
The Sarawak newspaper reported yesterday that Sarawak state police have not received a formal directive on the Bible, and Iban Christians, at least for now, can continue to own and distribute it.
“At the moment, as far as Sarawak police is concerned, we are not taking any action yet since there is no order in black and white,” Police Commissioner Mohd Yusoff Jaafar said.
The official noted he has met with representatives of churches.
“I understand the sensitivity of the issue,” he said.
The Iban are the largest of 27 ethnic groups indigenous to Sarawak. Among Malaysia’s 23 million people, about 9 percent identify as Christian.