The Catholic Church wants the return of hymn books that had the word "Allah" seized by the Johor police last Friday, and protested against the increasing "continued vigilantism and harassment" of Christians in Malaysia.
The Bishop of the Catholic Church Johor-Malacca Diocese, Paul Tan, said police must return the 31 copies of a hymn book seized from priest Cyril Mannayagam that were intended for Orang Asli Christians.
"I protest against the intervention by the police, their interrogation of a priest with no grounds for being a threat to national security, and the non-return of our hymnals," Tan said in the strongly worded statement made available to The Malaysian Insider.
"This is an enlargement of the harassment of Christians despite all sorts of assurances from the prime minister and his Cabinet," said one of Malaysia's top church officials.
His counterparts in the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur and Penang are awaiting the results of their application to appeal a court ruling upholding Putrajaya's right to bar the church from using the word “Allah” in any publication.
On December 5, Cyril had his statement recorded by police in Ledang, Tangkak, and the 31 hymnals confiscated.
The hymn books, entitled "Mari Kita Memuji Allah Kita", had been meant for the Orang Asli parishioners in Cyril's congregation at the Church of St Andrew in Muar.
Johor police have since said that the decision whether the books would be returned was up to the Attorney-General's Chambers.
Tan questioned how the act of photocopying hymnals for use by the Catholic Orang Asli settlement in Bekok, Tangkak, could be deemed as some sort of “threat” that required police intervention.
"Police did not just casually question Cyril at the photocopying shop, he was taken back to the police station and questioned," he said.
Johor deputy CID chief Assistant Commissioner Dennis Lim had yesterday told The Malaysian Insider that it was normal procedure for statements to be recorded in an investigation and denied that police had "detained" the priest.
Lim said the case was being investigated under Section 298A of the Penal Code for causing disharmony, disunity, or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will on grounds of religion.
"Up till now, it has been religious authorities who have taken upon themselves to conduct these fruitless, arrogant, and very disruptive actions on Christians," Tan said.
He said Article 11, 3A of the Federal Constitution guaranteed each religion in Malaysia the right to manage its own affairs.
"And that was all that was happening with the hymnals. They were for internal use for a Catholic service," Tan said.
He said it was a well-known fact that there were tens of thousands of native Bumiputera Christians who worked in the peninsula.
"Johor has one of the highest percentages of Sabahans and Sarawakians. We also have had, for more than 100 years, Orang Asli communities who are Catholics."
Tan said the worship and prayer services for these Catholics were in Bahasa Malaysia as it was their common language.
"An integral part of our worship and prayer is to sing hymns, which logically, would be in Bahasa Malaysia and include the word 'Allah'.
"It is ridiculous to continue to allow those who need to, to have their worship and Bible in Bahasa Malaysia, but that they may not continue other aspects of their worship in the national language.
"It is tantamount to telling us to sing our hymns in English, Tamil or Chinese, even though the congregation and priest will be using Bahasa Malaysia."
Cyril had told The Malaysian Insider in a report yesterday how he had "repeatedly" told the police that the hymnals were meant to be used at an upcoming Christmas service for some 100 Orang Asli parishioners.
Police were tipped off to the hymn books after Cyril had sent one copy for photocopying at a bookshop opposite the Ledang police headquarters in Tangkak.
He said he returned four hours later to find two policemen waiting for him.
This incident follows the discovery of a warning stamped in more than 300 copies of the Malay and Iban Bibles seized from the Bible Society Malaysia earlier this year and released recently to Sarawak Christians.
The warning states that the Bibles are not to be used or published anywhere in Selangor in accordance with state Islamic enactments prohibiting non-Muslim use of certain Arabic words. – December 15, 2014.
~ The Malaysian Insider