15,100 copies of Bibles from Indonesia containing word ‘Allah’ detained by Malaysian authorities
THE Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, said authorities seized a consignment of 10,000 copies sent from Jakarta to Kuching in Sarawak state on Sept. 11 because the Indonesian-language Bibles contained the word ‘Allah.’
Indonesian language is similar to Malaysian language, both of which use ‘Allah’ as translation for God.
Another 5,100 Bibles, also imported from Indonesia, were seized in March, said an official from the Bible Society of Malaysia, who asked not to be named for fear of angering the government.
The alleged seizure is certain to reignite complaints by religious minorities that their right to practice their faiths freely has come under threat as the government panders to the Muslim majority, says an Associate Press report.
Malaysia has banned non-Muslims from using the word ‘Allah’ in their texts, saying the word is Islamic and may upset Muslims.
About 60 per cent of the country’s 28 million people are Malay Muslims while 25 per cent are ethnic Chinese and eight per cent are Indians. Many of the Chinese, Indians, and natives in Sabah and Sarawak states are Christians.
The Roman Catholic Church is challenging the ‘Allah’ ban in court, saying it is unconstitutional and discriminates against those worshipping in Malay language.
The case has been stuck in preliminary hearings for almost two years.
Shastri said the Church is concerned over the continued detention ‘of our holy book, which is depriving congregations … and denying them the use of their Bible.’
‘For most of the Christians, this is not an issue of going against the authorities. They have been using (the word ‘Allah’) for a long time,’ he said.
Church officials say Allah is not exclusive to Islam but is an Arabic word that predates Islam. –AP
Call for release of detained Bibles
The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) has called for the immediate release of the 15,000 Bahasa Malaysia Bibles being withheld by the authorities.
It said the seizure contravened Article 11 of the Federal Constitution which gives all Malaysians the right to profess and practise his faith.
“This constitutional right is rendered illusory if Christians in Malaysia are denied access to Bibles in a language with which they are familiar,” said its chairman Bishop Ng Moon Hing and executive committee in a statement Nov. 4.
They said withholding the Bibles deprived Christians in Sabah, Sarawak and in the peninsula, a large majority of who use Bahasa Malaysia, “the right to use the Holy Scriptures in Bahasa Malaysia, to practise and profess their faith and to nourish themselves spiritually.”
They said it was baseless to withhold the Bibles on the ground that they were prejudicial to public order since they had been in existence before independence and had never caused public disorder.
“Since the 1970s and in consonance with the Government’s policies in education and the national language, Christians in Malaysia have received their education in Bahasa Malaysia.
“To deny the same Christians the right to read and study the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia is thus ridiculous and offensive. In fact, it is this action by the authorities themselves which is an affront to good public order.
“We call on the relevant government officials who have neither the authority nor the right to act in this unconscionable manner to explain their action to the church leaders and to the public,” they said, adding that churches stood to their commitment to Bahasa Malaysia as the national language.
They said the Government had in an agreement in 2005 stated Bahasa Malaysia Bibles could be distributed so long as the symbol of the cross and the words “A Christian publication” were printed on the front page.
They called on the Government to walk the talk of its 1Malaysia policy and not impose conditions on the freedom of citizens to worship, pray and read the Holy Scriptures in Bahasa Malaysia.
“How can the first pillar of the Rukunegara, that is, ‘Belief In God,’ be made a living reality if the Government imposes restrictions and conditions on the constitutional and fundamental right of citizens to freedom of religion?” they said.
Herald’s application decision on Nov. 10
Meanwhile, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur has fixed Nov 10 to arrive at a decision on whether to set aside or uphold its own order in allowing eight parties to intervene in the matter relating the use of the word “Allah” in the weekly publications of The Herald magazine.
Justice Lau Bee Lan set the date in chambers after hearing submissions from the contesting parties on the Kuala Lumpur Roman Catholic Church’s application to set aside the court’s order.
Counsel S Selvarajah, who is representing the church, informed the media that the church had submitted to court that based on the Federal Court ruling on Sept 3 in the case of Majlis Agama Islam Selangor vs Bong Boon Chuen & 150 others, the High Court had no jurisdiction to allow intervention in judicial review proceedings under Order 15 Rule 6(2)(b) of the Rules of the High Court 1980.
In opposing the application, one of the interveners’ counsel, Abdul Rahim Sinwah, submitted that the eight parties had legal interest to be interveners in the judicial review proceedings.
On Aug 3, the court allowed eight parties, including Islamic religious councils, to be interveners in the new application by Archbishop Murphy Pakiam for a judicial review over the usage of the word “Allah” in the church’s publications.
In her ruling, Lau had held that the eight parties – the Islamic religious councils of Perak, Terengganu, Penang, Selangor, Kedah, Johor and Malacca, and the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association – had legal interest in the issue.
On Feb 16, Pakiam, as the publisher of The Herald, filed a new application for a judicial review after a similar application in 2008 was deemed academic following the expiry of The Herald’s publication permit for Jan 1 to Dec 31, 2008.
In the application, naming the Home Ministry and the government as respondents, he is seeking, among other things, a declaration that the decision by the respondents on Jan 7, 2009, prohibiting him from using the word “Allah” in the “Herald – The Catholic Weekly” publication was illegal and that the word “Allah” was not exclusive to the religion of Islam.