There are some weird and wonderful import and export laws in countries all over the world, but in a Western civilization where freedom of religion is preached from the street corners it seems almost archaic that there are countries, particularly within the Middle East, that ban the import of the bible.
The banning of the import of bibles is mainly within the Middle East. Uzbekistan has a complete ban on the import of any religious literature, while even FedEx warn its customers against trying to import bibles into Saudi Arabia. Even Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical Epic Noah is banned from release in Middle Eastern countries due an apparent ‘violation’ of Islamic Law. While tourists in some of these Middle Eastern counties may bring their own bible to privately practice their own religion, attempted distribution is not treated kindly. Yet, in some Middle Eastern countries, things aren’t so straightforward.
Iran is a prime example. While to its Islamic government and security systems the Bible is illegal, finding a copy on the streets of Tehran, the country’s capital, isn’t hard. The street on which the majority of these books can be found is quite aptly named ‘Enqelab Street’ – translation ‘Revolution Street’. Throughout the old bookshops and street peddlers in Tehran, Bibles and other books considered illegal, including on subjects such as mysticism and even Satanism, are many in number.
So, why is the Bible banned in the Middle East? The answer is simple: Islamic government. In the majority of the Middle Eastern countries, Islam is the only religion able to be practiced legally and Islamic law is strictly enforced. As such, the doctrines of other religions are forbidden. The Gideons, an association dedicated to spreading Christianity throughout the world, are forbidden from operating in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
Islam is firmly rooted in the Middle East, but there might be some hope of further religious freedom where the imports of Bibles might not be illegal. In Qatar, the import of bibles of permitted for congregational use, although the imports are strictly controlled. Other Christian literature is also freely available in bookshops. This is a small step in the right direction to religious tolerance, but who knows whether we will progress much further.