A new set of guidelines being proposed by Putrajaya could see Malay-language Bibles with the word “Allah” being barred from Peninsular Malaysia, going against the pledge by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in April 2011 to allow the holy books to be distributed nationwide.
The draft standard operating procedure (SOP) was unveiled by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Tan Sri Joseph Kurup, to Christian leaders in Sabah and Sarawak in April, and to the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) on May 18.
The general principle in the new rules is that Christian publications with the word “Allah” cannot be imported into Peninsular Malaysia, and if brought in, can only pass through with Sabah and Sarawak as their final destinations.
The draft rules also state that “Al-Kitab”, the Malay-language Bible, can be brought into the peninsula from Sabah and Sarawak but only for personal use, possibly in recognition of the many Bumiputera Christians from the two states who live, work or study in the peninsula.
This draft, if made effective, would mean that Al-Kitab cannot be imported directly into Peninsular Malaysia, and can only be brought by Christians from Sarawak and Sabah for their private use.
It recommended that any person bringing such materials into the peninsula must obtain a letter of permission for import from the Home Ministry’s Publication and Quranic Texts Control division.
The new SOP also appears to imply that any importation of Al-Kitab into the peninsula must be intended for Sabah or Sarawak as the final destination, as it states that for processing at the airport terminal, the bearer of the goods must produce an air ticket to show that he or she was a transit passenger.
“If the ticket shows it is not for immediate boarding or not for travel on the same day, the items would be temporarily detained and released on the traveling date,” the SOP says.
Following the briefing, CFM last week rejected the SOP, saying it negated the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom and the right to manage one’s own religious affairs.
CFM chairman, Dr Eu Hong Seng (pic, left) pointed out in the statement that the importation of the Al-Kitab does not come under the scope of the state, as state religious laws only pertain to the regulation of Islam.
“The specific requirement for non-Muslim religions to seek the approval of the federal government’s Islamic agencies for the importation of religious material is in clear violation of the provisions of the Federal Constitution and the spirit of the 10-point solution,” he had said.
The briefing on the SOP had shown a slide presentation stating that the draft regulations proposed were in accordance with laws such as the Printing of Quranic Texts Act 1986, a law to control the publication and distribution of the Quran.
A Christian leader based in Petaling Jaya told The Malaysian Insider that the new rules were totally unacceptable as they would effectively restrict the import of Malay Bibles into Peninsular Malaysia.
“We should be able to use the Malay Bibles in the whole country.
“But the SOP now restricts the importation of Bibles direct to ports of entry in Peninsular Malaysia, when there is no law in the country to prohibit importation, ” he said.
Another Christian leader concurred, and questioned why the ministry’s Quranic Texts Control Division should have a say on what Christians can and cannot read.
“It seems they would like to control what we read about our faith.
“Are they now wanting to manage our Christian religious affairs as well?” he asked.
The new SOP appears to be contradict Najib’s pledge to Christians in 2011 under the 10-point solution, among which Malay Bibles imported into Peninsular Malaysia must carry the words “Christian publication” and a cross on its cover.
It meant that Malay Bibles could still be imported into West Malaysia as long as they bore those distinguishing features.
“Taking into account the interest of the larger Muslim community, for Peninsular Malaysia, Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia, imported or printed, must have the words ‘Christian publication’ and the cross sign printed on the front cover,” Najib had stated in the 10-point solution letter to then CFM chairman Bishop Ng Moon Hing, in April 2012.
Najib had also said that a directive on the Bible had been issued by the Home Ministry’s chief secretary to ensure proper implementation of the Cabinet decision.
“Failure to comply will subject the officers to disciplinary action under the General Orders.
“A comprehensive briefing by top officials, including the Attorney-General will be given to all relevant civil servants to ensure good understanding and proper implementation on the directive,” the prime minister had written then, adding that as the country’s leader, he was committed to solving religious issues in the country.
“There is a need to manage polarities that exist in our society to achieve peace and harmony.
“I believe the best way to achieve this is through respect, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation,” he said in the letter to Ng.
The new SOP was conceived following the seizure of Christian CDs and books from a Christian pastor from Sabah last November.
Maklin Masiau had arrived at Kota Kinabalu from Medan, Indonesia via the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and was reportedly carrying 574 books and 419 CDs.
But Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has blamed the seizure on the failure of the Customs Department to coordinate the matter with his ministry.
To clear up the inter-departmental mess, Kurup said new guidelines would be drawn up to ensure that Christian materials bound for East Malaysia would not be confiscated at ports and airports.
Christians make up about 9% of the population, or 2.6 million, and two-thirds of them are Bumiputera based largely in Sabah and Sarawak, where they routinely use Bahasa Malaysia and indigenous languages in their religious practices, including describing God as “Allah” in their prayers and holy book. – May 28, 2015