Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sarawak Bibles stamped with Home Ministry seal

Thirty thousand Malay Bibles seized by Home Ministry officials from the port here were stamped today with the government’s seal without the importer’s consent despite Putrajaya’s assurance that the holy books for Sarawak Christians would be left untouched.

The move comes on the heels of an alleged defacement of a separate consignment of 5,100 Bibles shipped into Port Klang from Indonesia by the Selangor-based Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), and has caused a surge in jitteriness as Sarawakians brace for a emotive state election expected to be called next month.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had defended yesterday his ministry’s stamping of 5,100 Malay-language Bibles in Port Klang with its official seal, saying it was standard protocol and not done to “deface” the Alkitab.

“As for the serial numbers on the Bibles, the reason why it was done to the specific Bibles is because they are subject to the particular seizure in Klang,” he added.

Hishammuddin’s Cabinet colleague Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz had also said the 5,100 copies in Port Klang remain illegal due to a prohibition in Selangor Islamic laws.

However, the de facto law minister had told The Malaysian Insider that the 30,000 Alkitab in Kuching could be released immediately as there was no enactment in Sarawak against the use of the term “Allah” in non-Muslim publications.

A copy of the Bible with the ministry stamp.The ministry stamp in the Sarawak Bibles.The ministry stamp clearly says the Bible is for Christians only.

The Sarawak importer, James Redas, told The Malaysian Insider that local Bumiputera Christians are highly upset at what they see as a desecration of their holy book and will make their feelings felt at the ballot box.

“They know what to do when the elections come,” he remarked.

Sarawak is the most culturally-diverse state in the country; but in terms of religion, about seven out of 10 people there are non-Muslim.

Yesterday, The Malaysian Insider reported that the Sarawak cargo worth RM78,000 had been left untouched after the BSM complained its Port Klang consignment had been defaced.

Today, Redas related the situation has changed.

He received a phone call from the Home Ministry’s state director, one Julia Johari, this morning telling him Putrajaya had given explicit instructions to immediately carry out the stamping on the entire cargo of 30,000 holy books as per the conditions imposed for the release.

Alarmed, Redas said he asked the director to withhold the task while he consulted national church leaders.

However, by afternoon, he received another call that the deed had already been carried out.

He said he rushed to the ministry’s office in Jalan Satok here where the holy books had been stored since being seized from port in January, and asked for two copies as proof.

“I requested two copies of the Bible to confirm that they have been stamped. I specifically said I won’t want to take the collection,” Redas said in recounting the day’s events, adding he had to fill out a form to acknowledge the move.

“This in no way means that the Christian community accepts these Bibles. These two copies are just samples,” he stressed.

He said the peninsula-based Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), which represents over 90 per cent of churches nationwide, had advised him against retrieving the remainder of the ministry-endorsed cargo.

As can be seen in the pictures snapped by The Malaysian Insider, the stamp which appears on the inside page of the Bible’s cover prominently displays the words: “Untuk kegunaan penganut Kristian sahaja [“For Christian use only”].

he government’s move to release the Bibles has, however, sparked fresh concerns of reigniting Malay-Muslim anger and fears over non-Muslim use of the word “Allah”, which reached a critical point last year with arson and vandal attacks on several houses of worship.

The Christian and Muslim religious communities have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the word “Allah”, with the latter group arguing that its use should be exclusive to them on the grounds as Islam is monotheistic and the word “Allah” denotes the Muslim God.

Christians, however, have argued that “Allah” is an Arabic word that has been used by those of other religious beliefs, including the Jews, in reference to God in many other parts of the world, notably in Arab nations and Indonesia.

The tussle is still trapped in the courts after the ministry won a stay of the 2009 High Court ruling that allowed Catholic weekly The Herald to use “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section.

“This is because in Selangor and other states in the peninsula besides Penang and the Federal Territories, there is still an enactment that prohibits the use of Allah by non-Muslims,” Nazri said.

The 10 remaining states currently enforce the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment, which restricts the use either verbally, or in print, of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.

The Najib administration was to have discussed the Alkitab and Allah row in the weekly Cabinet meeting in Putrajaya today, but has maintained an elegant silence on the subject to date.

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