Christianity has been stealing the headlines in Malaysia in the past couple of months. Firstly, there was the case of the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) who seized 321 copies of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia (the Al-Kitab) and the Iban language Bible (Bup Kudus) from the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM). Despite much criticisms, Jais has refused to release the Bibles on the grounds it is awaiting a court order for the release pursuant to the Criminal Procedure Code.
The matter went up to the Attorney-General, Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, who has said that there was no case and directed Jais to follow the proper procedures for the release of the Bibles. Jais didn’t comply. The Sultan of Selangor, as head of Islam in the state, then stepped in saying that action regarding the Bibles should be made according to legal procedures. Jais is still holding on to the Bibles. It seems they want the state (Selangor) deputy prosecutor to get a court order to dispose of the Bibles, which they consider as items seized in the course of an investigation.
It is apparent that Jais considers itself an authority of its own and will not submit to the rule of law. What is pathetic is that nobody is able to keep it in check, not even the state government in whose jurisdiction it operates. The state government had ordered Jais to release the Bibles to the BSM but until now Jais hasn’t complied.
Frustrated by Jais’ frequent “investigations” and the failure of the state government to keep it in check, the BSM has moved its office from Selangor and is now located in the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.
In May there was a conference at which a Muslim NGO leader raised the “threat of Christianisation”, claiming that if it were not checked, by the year 2100, the Christian population would equal the Muslim population at about 40% in Malaysia. He based his argument on the South Korea example where the Christian population had risen from 0.5% in 1905 to 30% in 2005. He also claimed that the number of Muslims converted to Christianity had risen from a few in the 1900s to 250,000 although he doesn’t know the exact current figure.
If people choose their own religions, shouldn’t it be respected even if we don’t like it?
Then, there was the Allah issue. The Catholic Church’s newspaper, the Herald, was banned by the Home Ministry from using the word “Allah”, which means God in Bahasa Malaysia, in its publications. The Catholic Church took the matter all the way to the apex court, the Court of Appeal, which on June 23 rejected its bid to get leave to challenge the Home Ministry’s ban on the use of the word.
National Christian leaders, while respecting the court decision, made it very clear that the decision only applied to the Herald and “Allah” would continue to be used in their Bibles, publications and ministries to the Bahasa Malaysia-speaking congregations as they have always done!
It is commendable that Christian leaders made a stand regarding this issue. It is a stand that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians from the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak and the Orang Asli constitute about 60% of the 9% Christian population in Malaysia. They have been using the word “Allah” as far back as they can remember, using Bibles printed in Indonesia where the word is used.
While all this is bleak news to Christians, it is heartening to read what a recently appointed mufti in Penang has to say. Dr Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor said the use of the word “Allah” is not an issue in Islam but many Muslims in the country cannot accept it.
That is the unfortunate reality of the Muslim world. The informed and learned Muslims like Dr Wan Salim are too few to impact their societies to effect a change in the mindset of the majority so that there is compliance with the universal values of justice and fairness and rules of conduct when dealing with non-Muslims. As a result, the rest of the world will always be held hostage to the whims and fancies of an unilluminated mindset that sometimes will cruelly impose its will on others, including their own who do not conform.
This is going to be our future. We have to learn how best to deal with it.