Malaysia

Jais has no right to raid Bible Society of Malaysia premises, says council of churches

The Bible Society of Malaysia president Lee Min Choon appealed for calm.  – The Malaysian Insider pic by Najjua Zulkefli, January 2, 2014.The Bible Society of Malaysia president Lee Min Choon appealed for calm. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Najjua Zulkefli, January 2, 2014.The Selangor Islamic authorities do not have the authority to raid the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), said the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM).

Saying they were alarmed by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department's (Jais) raid today on BSM where they confiscated over 300 Bibles in Malay and Iban, CCM general-secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri said that the Federal Constitution guaranteed the right of religious communities in the country to freely profess and administer their affairs.

"The Prime Minister, Selangor Menteri Besar and all Christian lawmakers should act immediately to stop such actions and further raids," he said in a statement issued more than two hours after the controversial raid.

He said the CCM believes that Islamic authorities do not have the authority in law to enter the premises of non-Muslim religious establishments for inspection, search or raid.

He also called on the churches to stay calm and pray that the rightful authorities would act with wisdom and sensitivity to protect the religious rights of all.

Christians make up about 9% of the Malaysian population, or 2.6 million. Almost two-thirds of them are Bumiputera and are largely based 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.

Besides the Bumiputera Christians from East Malaysia, some of whom have moved to the peninsula to live and work, Orang Asli Christians in the peninsula also typically use Bahasa Malaysia in their worship.

The Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) president Lee Min Choon, who was detained and taken to the police station today, called on the Christian community to remain calm following the raid.

A team of officers from Jais and two policemen went to the BSM offices in Damansara Kim, in Selangor, today at 1pm and carted away some 300 copies of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia and Iban.

"The team wanted to enter the premises but my staff asked them to show their authorisation cards and search warrant, which they failed to produce," Lee said at the Damansara police station.

Lee and BSM manager Sinclair Wong were taken to the Damansara police station by Jais along with the Bibles. Jais lodged a police report over the raid.

Lee and Wong were released on police bail at 4pm, but have not been told whether they will face further action.

Lee said Jais were conducting the raid under a state enactment but did not say which one. It is believed that the state enactment being used was the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988.

"Over the past few years, BSM has been in regular contact with Putrajaya, including Attorney General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala," Lee said.

He said they had received assurances from Putrajaya that Malay Bibles could be imported.

"We are allowed to freely distribute the Bibles in Sabah and Sarawak without any conditions," he said.

"As for the peninsula, as long as the Bible has a cross and the words 'Christian publication' on the cover, it can be freely imported and distributed to Christians."

Lee said the legality of the Bible has been recognised by various orders issued by the home minister.

"We hope that Putrajaya and Jais will communicate with each other and resolve this issue," Lee said.

Lee is expected to meet Jais officers on January 10 in Shah Alam to discuss the matter.

Today’s raid comes after the editor of Catholic weekly, Herald, Rev Father Lawrence Andrew said that Catholic churches in Selangor would continue to use the word “Allah” in their weekend services in Bahasa Malaysia, which are primarily attended by Sabah and Sarawak folk.

The comments came following a statement from the new director of Jais Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad, who said the state religious authorities would draw up a list of Selangor churches before writing to ask them to comply with the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988.

“We will write to all the churches in Selangor to respect the law that is in force in relation to this,” he was quoted as saying.

The enactment, which was passed by the then Barisan Nasional state government, prohibits non-Muslims in Selangor from using 35 Arabic words and phrases, including “Allah”, “Nabi” (prophet), “Injil” (gospel) and “Insya'Allah” (God willing).

Andrew's statement caused an uproar among various non-governmental organisations, which among others, described his action as not only challenging the sensitivities of Muslims, but also a sign of disrespect for the law.

Meanwhile, Selangor religious exco Solehin Muhyi, when contacted, said he was not aware of the raid.

"I didn’t know anything until now," he said. – January 2, 2014.

Comments