Alkitab importers still Doubting Thomases
KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — Two Christian groups who imported a total of 35,000 Malay bibles and had them seized by the home ministry could not believe their ears when told Putrajaya had ordered their release yesterday.
Spokesmen for the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) and the Sarawak branch of global Christian group, The Gideons, sounded sceptical when contacted for comment. “It’s the first step,” BSM general secretary, Reverend Dr Simon Wong, remarked to The Malaysian Insider over the phone last night.
Wong said he had yet to hear from BSM chairman, Lee Min Choon, who had gone to Putrajaya earlier yesterday afternoon to meet with home ministry officials over the matter. He related that BSM has been waiting two years to collect its shipment of 5,100 books stuck at Port Klang and hinted that they would not believe the release was real until they had received the Alkitab directly into their hands.
“Like what we had experienced in the past when we went to the port and they said ‘no’,” Wong added referring to conflicting instructions from a senior home ministry official at the Port Klang office last June.
The BSM had sent an agent there after receiving notice to collect the Alkitab, but the agent had returned empty-handed after ministry official refused to honour the order, saying it was a mistake.
More recently, a shipment of 30,000 bibles worth RM78,000 bound for the Malay-speaking Christian market in Sarawak was seized from port and locked away by home ministry officials in Kuching.
The importer, who asked not to be named, told The Malaysian Insider he had received a faxed notice from the ministry’s Publications Control and Al-Quran Text division secretary, Datuk Zaitun Ab Samad at about 6.30pm yesterday.
The notice said the government would be releasing the Alkitab soon on condition that the books be stamped with the word “For Christian Use” on the cover of each book, but did not give a date for collection.
The notice also said that each book must be stamped with a serial number, which upset the importer who saw it as a government move to curtail freedom of religion in the Sarawak where seven out of ten people are non-Muslim.
“We don’t want this condition... Macam control item sahaja,” he told The Malaysian Insider in a phone call from Kuching.
The importer said he will be going to the home ministry’s office in the state capital today for an explanation.
Yesterday, the Najib administration ordered the release of 35,000 Malay-language Bibles which were seized at the ports of Kuching and Klang, bowing to pressure from Christian churches and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) politicians.
“This is a reasonable compromise in managing the polarities of views between Christians and Muslims in the country,” said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala in a statement.
The Cabinet was set to discuss the issue on Friday with one eye on the Sarawak polls set to take place next month.
But with the seizure of the bibles drawing protests from Christians nationwide, a majority of whom live in Sabah and Sarawak, the federal government was forced to take action yesterday.
The Christian Federation of Malaysia, which represents 90 per cent of churches in Malaysia, has said that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak made a decision to release the Alkitabs but so far, the home ministry, which controls customs, has refused to hand over the bibles.
Christians, who make up close to 10 per cent of Malaysia’s 28 million population, use Bahasa Malaysia in Sabah and Sarawak churches to preach to the multi-ethnic congregation who each have a distinctive tribal language.
But evangelist churches there, such as Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB), have crossed the South China Sea to preach to the growing number of Sarawakians and Sabahans who are settling down in the peninsula after furthering their studies or finding work here.
Jala, who is a Sarawakian Christian, said that the government had decided on the release of the Alkitab in line with a 1982 gazette under the Internal Security Act which allows its limited and controlled importation and circulation on condition that the books are stamped: “For Christians Only.”
“Since 1982, with this gazette, there have been no problems in its implementation. As such, taking into account this fact, the government has decided to apply the 1982 gazette and release the bibles accordingly,” the statement said.
Jala said that after a careful and thorough review, the Attorney-General confirmed that the release of the bibles did not prejudice the ongoing court case of the “Allah” issue.
The minister also noted that the Sarawak government categorically expressed its view that the impounded bibles should be released.
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