COMMENT Not even two years have passed by and now the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) is again facing the possibility of another raid.
This time, it is by a federal agency using Section 63 of the Societies Act 1966, which, under normal circumstances, the Registrar of Societies (ROS) would not use.
A member of the Bible Society who spoke on condition of anonymity said that for the past 23 years, the society has always been up-to-date with its submission to the ROS.
“If there are any documents that the registrar would like the society to furnish, the staff would be more than happy to comply,” she said, dismissing that there could be any proselytisation work done by the society.
In the first place, it has never been the role of the Bible Society to carry out any proselytisation work.
Therefore, the raid carried out last year by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) under the instruction of the Selangor Islamic Affairs Council (Mais) chaired by an alleged Umno strongman, was totally uncalled for and a sign of clear disrespect to the Christian community.
Thanks to Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali, when the Bibles were subsequently returned, Mais requested that the Bibles be sent to Sabah, instead of going back to their rightful owners - the Bible Society.
During the raid, the Iban Bibles were also confiscated by Jais officers, which clearly showed the lack of sincerity by the parties concerned which claimed that the use of the name ‘Allah’ in the Malay and Iban Bibles was an attempt by the Christian community to weaken the aqidah (faith) of the Muslims.
Till now, no one has answered my questions: “How many Malay Muslims in peninsular Malaysia can read Bup Kudus in the Iban language? And, lying in the warehouse, when the Alkitab were being carted away, were they used in any proselytisation work or found in the hands of any Muslim?”
The Bible Society is there mainly to supply Bibles in different languages to the Christian community, and if the Alkitab is the main issue now why the ROS is using Section 63, then is Bahasa Malaysia after all the national language?
Within the scope of Article 11 of the federal constitution, the Christian community has “the right to profess and practice his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.”
Article 11 further states that every religious group has the right to manage its own religious affairs. In short, the Christians, like any other communities, want to exercise their faith with some peace of mind; and there should not be any interference from any party over the question of God’s name.
To use Section 63 is therefore excessive in the eyes of most people. The Christian community also question the timing of the visit by ROS, especially at a time when there is so much focus on religious persecution in Malaysia, both in local and international media.
Contrary to the constitution
Although the visit yesterday was postponed indefinitely, the idea of placing churches and other religious organisations directly under the supervision of the ROS runs contrary to the spirit of the federal constitution.
Article 11 safeguards the non-Muslims’ rights to ‘establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes’.
Why is it not possible for the government to allow a recognised body such as the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), for example, to register the churches and govern its own religious affairs?
Placing the churches and other religious organisations under the ROS could lead to abuses now and in the future, especially when they are officers who do not share the same faith, giving the perception that there is religious persecution in the country.
I am sure that yesterday’s episode was being watched closely by international groups as well as the church at large, both domestic and abroad.
BN’s stake at risk
This raises the question why cabinet minister Joseph Kurup is so eager in explaining, instead of shooting down the Home Ministry’s latest standard operating procedure (SOP) which allows the Quranic Text Division of the Home Ministry to supervise the import of the Alkitab into peninsular Malaysia.
Kurup (photo) is supposed to be a native Christian from Sabah, but once implemented, he risks losing the respect of the Christian community in both east and peninsular Malaysia for failing to make a stand.
Confidence in both Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and especially Home Minister Zahid Hamidi would dip the lowest within the Christian community. Najib has failed to be the prime minister for all Malaysians, while Zahid will no longer enjoy the people’s trust.
The entire Barisan Nasional will suffer the backlash as well since they are connected with both Najib, Zahid and Kurup.
As the Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim has warned: “There is no point having authority if you cannot influence the people. If you have authority but command no influence, it is a sign that you are not worthy of being a leader.”
STEPHEN NG is an ordinary citizen with an avid interest in following political developments in the country since 2008.