Malaysia: Christians seething after Bibles stamped with warning

December 11, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

Bible stampedMalaysia, December 9, 2014: Iban and Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians in Sarawak are seething over the stamping of Malay and Iban-language Bibles with a warning by the Selangor religious authorities, saying the act of desecration had marred any sincerity over the release of the holy books which were seized earlier this year.

Pastor Graman Ujang, the chairman of Gempuru Besai Sarawak, the largest Christian grouping representing 6,000 Iban-speaking congregations in the state, said the Selangor religious authorities had showed bad faith in the return of the Bibles.

“It showed they were not sincere in wanting to return them. They did so because they were pressured to. “But why on earth did they do that, stamping the Bibles?” Ujang asked.

Ujang said he also felt embarrassed because the stamping showed Muslims in Malaysia were so weak in their faith that they would go to such lengths to reassure themselves.

“It also shows they just don’t have any respect for other religions,” Ujang told The Malaysian Insider.

The Bibles contain the Arabic word “Allah” for God. In the Alkitab and Bup Kudus, the Iban-language Bible, God is referred to as “Allah Taala”.

A total of 321 copies of the Bible were seized by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) bookshop on January 2. They were released to Sarawak Christians through the Association of Churches of Sarawak (ACS) at a ceremony witnessed by the Sultan of Selangor on November 14.

They were released to Sarawak Christians rather than the peninsula-based BSM from where they were seized, as the scriptures were not to be used in Selangor, a press statement by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) had explained.

However, the Bibles were stamped with a warning that the holy books were not to be published or used anywhere in the state of Selangor.

The warning in English reads: “Strictly for non-Muslims usage only and shall not be published or used in any part of the state of Selangor pursuant to section 9 (1) Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988”.

The Malaysian Insider had reported on Sunday that the stamping was most likely discovered only after the handing over ceremony of the Bibles towards the end of November, as the BSM had released an earlier statement thanking the sultan for helping to secure their release. It had also considered the matter settled then.

The BSM, in a strongly-worded statement on Sunday, had demanded an apology from the Selangor religious authorities.

“The Christian minority in this country has been made to suffer at the hands of religious zealots and extremists working within the government,” BSM president Bishop Datuk Ng Moon Hing had said in the statement.

The BSM also considered the stamping a repeat incident of desecration, the first time being in March 2011, when 5,000 copies of the Alkitab were stamped and serialised by the Home Ministry, which held the consignment worth RM70,000 (US$20,000) for two years after seizing them at the Kuching Port on March 20, 2009.

Prominent social activist Nicholas Bawin told The Malaysian Insider he was “very angry” as the desecration had violated one of the greatest fears Sarawak’s founding fathers of Malaysia had, that the freedom to worship any religion in predominantly Muslim Malaysia would gradually be eroded.

“Where is the hope of freedom of worship with all these,” said Bawin, who is also a PKR politician.

Ujang had earlier this year commented on the January 2 seizure of the Bibles from BSM’s bookshop in Petaling Jaya, calling it a “serious and intolerable” violation of the constitutional right of Christians to practise, preach and propagate their faith.

“If one copy had been taken, it would have been understood to be for inspection.

“But seizing multiple copies is a clear attempt to restrict the Iban-speaking Christians from accessing the Bible in our own language,” he had said.

Iban Christians make up some 52.6% of Sarawak’s Christians. Christianity is Malaysia’s third largest religion, with 2.6 million followers or about 10% of the country’s population, a 2010 census showed.

Malaysia has an ongoing dispute in the courts over the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims, which began with the Catholic Church’s suit against the government for banning the word in the Bahasa Malaysia edition of its newsletter, Herald.

The Federal Court first denied the church leave to appeal a Court of Appeal ruling which banned the word, and has now fixed January 21 to hear the church’s review application to set aside the earlier ruling and to establish a new panel to re-hear the leave application.

The word “Allah” and several other Arabic words pertaining to prayer, faith and worship were first banned from non-Muslim publications under a Home Ministry circular in 1986. This prohibition is now in several Islamic state enactments.

A 10-point agreement by the federal government issued before the April 2011 state elections in Sarawak allowed the Alkitab and Iban-language Bibles to continue being imported, distributed and used.

But there has been ambiguity in its implementation, with some politicians saying it can only be used by Sabah and Sarawak Christians in their states, despite the fact that many of them live and work in the peninsula.

News of the recent stamping and the BSM’s angry response follows a plea by Sarawak’s largest church group, Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Sarawak, for the right to use the word “Allah” in worship throughout Malaysia.

SIB Sarawak president Rev Dr Justin Wan had said that “Allah” was used in almost all native languages of the Sarawak natives, and noted the “high mobility” of people between the two Borneo states and the peninsula. – December 9, 2014.

– the malaysian insider

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