The matter concerning the 35,000 Bibles presently being held by the Malaysian government is being resolved “amicably,” claimed the head of the Ministry of Home Affairs on Sunday.
And, contrary to what some have claimed, the detention of the books is not a consequence of their material, but rather the consequence of a pending court battle over the word “Allah” in a Catholic publication.
"In respect of the bibles from Port Klang and Kuching Port, the ministry have since sought and obtained the advice of the Attorney-General and the two matters are being resolved amicably with the parties concerned, based on this advice, in the next few days,” reported Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein in a statement.
Over the past week, Christian leaders in Malaysia have slammed the national government for barring the delivery of Bibles from overseas and for detaining at least 35,000 of them.
“Since March 2009, all attempts to import the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia, i.e. the Alkitab, whether through Port Klang or the Port of Kuching, have been thwarted,” reported the executive committee of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, which comprises the nation’s largest ecumenical, Evangelical, and Roman Catholic Christian bodies.
According to CFM, 5,000 copies of the Alkitab have been held by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Port Klang since March 2009. And on Thursday, the Christian umbrella group reported that 30,000 copies of the "Perjanjian Baru, Mazmur dan Amsal" – the "New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs" – are currently being withheld at the Port of Kuching in Sarawak state.
CFM further maintained that “tedious steps” have been taken after each incident to secure the release of the Bibles and that “nothing has been done by the authorities to ensure their release.”
“It would appear as if the authorities are waging a continuous, surreptitious and systematic program against Christians in Malaysia to deny them access to the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia,” CFM declared.
The home ministry, however, has attempted to justify its actions and insisted the matter over the detained Bibles is being resolved rationally to avoid it turning into an "emotive and polemic" issue.
It further called claims by some Christian groups, such as the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, inaccurate and misleading.
"I urge all parties not to listen to wild allegations and speculations. As always, the ministry will act based on the law," the home minister said in his statement Sunday.
According to Hussein, the appeal that will determine the fate of the detained Bibles has yet been heard by the court. The appeal, he claimed, will “resolve the bigger issue of content one way or the other.”
In 2007, Malaysia’s Catholic Church filed a lawsuit against the government after the government threatened to revoke the printing permit of the faith-based Catholic Herald if it did not cease use of the word “Allah” in the Malay language section of its newspaper.
The government contends the word “Allah” is exclusively for Islam and that the use of “Allah” in Christian publications could confuse Muslims and make Christian ideas more appealing to them.
Church officials, however, argue that Allah is not exclusive to Islam because it is an Arabic word that existed before the religion. They say "Allah" has been used for centuries to mean "God" in Malay.
On Dec. 31, 2009, roughly two years after the suit was filed, a Supreme Court judge ruled on the side of the Malaysian Church, declaring that the word “Allah” is not exclusive to Islam and that the government’s Home Ministry is “not empowered” to ban non-Muslims from using the word.
The ministry, however, filed an appeal against the High Court decision in February 2010 and won a stay on the ruling pending the ruling of the Court of Appeal.
Despite the win, CFM claims that the national government had given the assurance that the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia, would be freely available, at least in the country’s two most populous states – Sabah and Sarawak.
“We call upon the Government to act now and prove their sincerity and integrity in dealing with the Malaysian Christian community on this and all other issues which we have been raising with them since the formation of the Christian Federation of Malaysia in 1985,” CFM expressed in a statement Thursday.
“As an immediate step, we insist upon the immediate release of all Bibles which have been detained,” it added.
According to the CIA World Factbook, 60.4 percent of Malaysia's 25.7 million people ascribe to Islam. Around 19.2 percent, meanwhile, is Buddhist, and 9.1 percent is Christian.
In general, Muslims enjoy special privileges in Malaysia as Islam is the dominant religion.