The confiscation of more than 300 copies of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia and another 10 copies of the Bible in the Iban language by Enforcement Officers from the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (JAIS) on 2nd January 2014 is a clear transgression of the 10-point Solution arrived at between the Federal Government and the Christian community on 2nd April 2011. The Solution was further reiterated in an official letter from the Malaysian Prime Minister, Dato Sri Mohd Najib, to Bishop Ng Moon Hing, Chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia on 11th April 2011.
Point number 5 in the 10-point Solution reads as follows. “Taking into account the interest of the larger Muslim community, for Peninsular Malaysia, Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia/ Indonesia, imported or printed, must have the words “Christian Publication” and the cross sign printed on the front covers.” The confiscated Bahasa Bibles fulfilled those two conditions.
Likewise, Point number 7 in the Solution notes that, “A directive on the Bible has been issued by the Ketua Setiausaha (KSU) of the Home Ministry to ensure the proper implementation of this Cabinet decision. Failure to comply will subject the officers to disciplinary action under the General Orders. A comprehensive briefing by top officials including the Attorney-General will be given to all relevant civil servants to ensure good understanding and proper implementation of the directive.”
If this briefing has already been done --- it is now two years and eight months since the Solution was announced --- were JAIS officials, and indeed, officials in all the other religious departments throughout the country given maximum exposure to the Solution? If they were fully informed, would they be guilty of “failure to comply” and would they be subjected to “disciplinary action” for confiscating the Bibles?
More than complying with the 10-point Solution, the JAIS officials had also failed to live up to the letter and the spirit of the Malaysian Constitution. A number of the points in the Solution such as those that deal with the printing and importation of the Bahasa Bible and their accessibility to Christians in both Sabah and Sarawak and the Malaysian Peninsula, are in harmony with the principle of the Freedom of Religion embodied in Article 11 of the Constitution. At the same time, the conditions stipulated for the distribution of the Bahasa Bible which I have referred to are in line with Article 11(4) of the Constitution which suggests that “State law, and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putra Jaya, federal law, may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.”
Indeed, it is this fear among many Muslims that some Christian groups through the manipulation of Islamic terminologies may try to undermine their faith and convert them to Christianity which is partly responsible for their insistence upon their exclusive right to use “Allah” and other related nomenclature. Their apprehension is in a sense understandable, given the attempts by some Christian missionaries during the colonial epoch to impose their religion upon Muslims and people of other faiths. Even in the post-colonial period this has continued albeit in different forms and through different channels.
Apart from the fact that the constitutional provision on propagation of other religious doctrines among Muslims affords a degree of protection, we would do well to remember that it is the depth of our own faith and our knowledge and understanding of Islam which is our most invincible shield. It is our duty and our responsibility to develop our inner strength and resilience.
And indeed, history has proven over and over again that Muslims by and large are not easily persuaded to abandon their religion. Though most of the Muslim world was colonised and was under Christian tutelage of sorts at one time, it is an irrefutable truth that very, very few Muslims embraced the religion of their masters.
This has been observed by a number of Western thinkers themselves. That Muslim fidelity to the Oneness of God --- Tawhid --- is unshakeable has been demonstrated yet again in recent times in the utter failure of Christian evangelists to convert Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, in spite of the covert support they had received from the conquering powers.