Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Herald) The Malaysian government is split over the ban on local language versions of the Bible, with one minister saying that "according to our constitution" they would be illegal, whilst another opposing such discrimination.
The controversy began in mid-April when Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz Nazri, a Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, said that Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia editions were prohibited by the constitution since independence in 1957; for that reason, the policy against spreading religions other than Islam was rooted in the constitutional charter.
National dailies The Star and The Sun reported that Datuk sought to renew the ban against Bibles in Malaysian languages to "prevent them from being used to convert people to Christianity". The Sun added that the Minister wanted anyone found with Bibles in local language editions to be "taken to court".
Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, another Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, took a different view, stating that the "national language can be used for whatever purpose, including worship".
In fact, it is already possible to bring into the country Bibles in local languages with prior Internal Security Ministry authorisation, whilst English-language edition can circulate without impediment.
Malaysian Christians have reacted with consternation. Wong Kim Kong, secretary general of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, said the ban was "inconsistent with Prime Minister Badawi's policies to promote religious harmony in the country".
Wong slammed the ban saying that it penalises above all Malaysian Christians who do not speak English, who make up "at least half of all the Christians living in the eastern part of the country where they use translated Bibles".
"Nazri's statements have caused confusion and anxiety in the Christian community," he said. Malaysia has 25 million people; Muslims constitute 53 per cent of the total, whilst Christians make up 6.5 per cent. (LF)