Christian leaders in Malaysia are sounding off against the government's latest detention of imported scriptures, reporting that some 30,000 were recently being held.
The Christian Federation of Malaysia – which comprises the nation's largest ecumenical, Evangelical, and Roman Catholic Christian bodies – announced Thursday that it is "greatly disillusioned, fed-up and angered by the repeated detention of Bibles written in our national language, Bahasa Malaysia."
"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," the umbrella organization stated, suggesting that the detentions are linked to the widely-publicized 2009 row over the translation of "God" in Bibles and other Christian publications.
In Malaysia, Christian publications were not allowed to use the word "Allah" to refer to God. 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, two years after a lawsuit was filed against the government over its "Allah" ban, a Supreme Court judge agreed with members 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.
Since then, the Malaysian government – though still committed to its "Allah" stance – has given the assurance that the Bible in the Bahasa Malaysia language would be freely available, at least in the country's largest two states – Sabah and Sarawak.
But CFM claimed Thursday 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.
Furthermore, 5,000 copies of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia – the Alkitab – have been held by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Port Klang since March 2009.
"This is despite repeated appeals which resulted in the Prime Minister making a decision to release the Alkitab held in Port Klang in December 2009 which was reported to CFM leaders by several Cabinet Ministers and their aides," noted the CFM Executive Committee in its statement Thursday.
Notably, the Malaysian Home Ministry has rejected CFM's claims of the Bibles detention in Port Klang. On Wednesday, the ministry said the Bibles had actually been refused entry into Malaysia for not fulfilling the ministry's requirements. Furthermore, it claimed that a letter of refusal dated June 26, 2010, was sent to the importer of the Bibles.
The importer, however, had yet to claim the cargo, the ministry reported, according to Bernama, a news agency of the Malaysian government.
Hence, it added, allegations by the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship that the ministry had confiscated and detained the Bibles were inaccurate and misleading. NECF is one of the bodies that comprise CFM.
Despite the ministry's claims, CFM maintained Thursday 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 programme against Christians in Malaysia to deny them access to the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia," CFM declared.
In closing, CFM insisted that access to Bibles in Bahasa is essential for Malaysian Christians – many of whom have grown up with Bahasa Malaysia as their principal medium of communication as a result of the government's education policies – in order to read, comprehend and practice their faith.
"It is an affront to them that they are being deprived of their sacred Scriptures," the Christian umbrella group added.
"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. As an immediate step, we insist upon the immediate release of all Bibles which have been detained," CFM concluded.
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.