KUALA LUMPUR, March 17 — The Christian community said today that it is appalled by what it says is the Najib administration’s desecration of 5,100 holy books shipped in from Indonesia and has flat out refused to collect the Port Klang shipment.
The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), which represents over 90 per cent of churches in the country, insisted that Putrajaya immediately drop the conditions imposed for the release of two shipments of Malay Bibles totalling 35,000 copies seized from Port Klang and Kuching port (“Christians protest: government blocks 30 thousand Bibles in Malay,” in AsiaNews, 12 March 2011).
Last night, the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) was told its shipment of 5,100 Alkitab—as the Malay Bibles are called—were stamped with the Home Ministry’s official seal, as per the conditions imposed for the release issued two days ago, without its prior permission.
The first requires the importers to stamp directly on the cover of each of the 35,000 copies the following words: “Peringatan: ‘Al Kitab Berita Baik’ ini untuk kegunaan penganut agama Kristian sahaja. Dengan perintah Menteri Dalam Negeri” (In English: “Reminder: This ‘Al Kitab Berita Baik’ is for the use of Christians only. By order of the Home Minister.”)
The cover of the Bibles would be stamped with the department’s official seal and dated as well.
The second condition requires the importers to stamp a serial number on each copy as if to demarcate copies from the released shipment and to enable the book to be traced back to the port of import.
“This means that the Bahasa Malaysia Bible is now treated as a restricted item, and the Word of God has been made subject to the control of man. This is wholly offensive to Christians,” the CFM said in a strongly worded statement today signed by its chairman, Bishop Ng Moon Hing.
The umbrella body refuted government claims it had reached a compromise, saying it had never agreed that its holy books should be endorsed to say, “It is only for Christians”.
“Any person who respects the Holy Scriptures of any religion would be appalled by this action. We will never accede to any desecration of the Bible since the Word of God to us is sacred,” it said.
Pointing to a 1982 order issued under the Internal Security Act (ISA), the CFM said nowhere in the law is it stated that any form of words had to be endorsed on any copy of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia. “Given that copies may already have been endorsed, we will not take delivery of those endorsed copies,” it added.
The CFM said it also wholly rejects the federal government’s argument that the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia is “prejudicial to the national interest and security of Malaysia”. It condemned the government’s treatment of its holy books as “subversive publication”.
The CFM said Christian Malaysians have always acted in good faith and with great patience to reach a peaceful end to religious dispute that would not compromise their beliefs. “But that good faith has not been reciprocated by the government,” it said.
It further accused Putrajaya of having moved the “goal posts” over the years “through a systematic imposition of unreasonable conditions and restrictions”.
“As Christians we wonder how our Holy Scriptures can become a national security threat where countless number of us find it helpful in bringing hope and healing to broken lives and homes which we can testify to,” it said.
The CFM called on all Malaysians to rally together and reject all attempts to control the freedom of religion in the country. It also advised all Christians to remain calm and pray for a dignified and respectful resolution to the ongoing Alkitab row and noted that Sunday will mark the second year the holy books have been detained at Port Klang.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein defended today his ministry’s stamping of the 5,100 Malay-language bibles in Port Klang with its official seal, saying it was standard protocol and not done to “deface” the Alkitab.
The minister also said his men had no choice but to adhere to these procedures as the BSM had wanted the Bibles to be released quickly. “We stamped the Bible based on amalan (practice) before [. . .] during Abdullah Badawi and even Tun Dr Mahathir’s time,” Hishammuddin told reporters today, referring to the two immediate past prime ministers.
Hishammuddin appeared to suggest that the Christian community’s uproar over what they considered a violation of their holy book to be manufactured. “They wanted it to be released quickly [. . .] If they want to find fault they can find fault [. . .] You can even say the Bibles are smelly after being kept for so long, if you want to find fault (with everything),” the minister claimed.
He said his officials had no intention to deface the Bibles, stressing that the Christian community should engage his ministry directly if it had issues or complaints over the measures taken. However, he also voiced frustration over the inability to bridge the now-widening chasm with the community over the issue.