‘Alarmed’ by Jais raid, churches call for government intervention

Local churches appealed today for Datuk Seri Najib Razak to intervene after Jais raided the Bible Society in Selangor today.— Picture by Choo Choy May
Local churches appealed today for Datuk Seri Najib Razak to intervene after Jais raided the Bible Society in Selangor today.— Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 2 — Local churches appealed today for intervention from both the federal and Selangor governments after the surprise raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM)’s office this afternoon and the seizure of its Malay-language and Iban bibles.

In a statement issued just hours after the raid by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais), the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) said the governments should step in and prevent a repeat of such actions.

“The CCM also calls on the Honourable Prime Minister, the Honourable Menteri Besar of Selangor, and all other Christian lawmakers to act immediately to stop such actions and future raids,” CCM said in the brief statement signed off by its secretary-general Rev Dr Hermen Shastri.

CCM also noted that the raid had taken place “right at the beginning of the new year”, and added that it believes Islamic bodies lack the powers to inspect non-Muslim places.

“The CCM believes that Islamic authorities do not have the authority in law to enter the premises of non-Muslim religious establishments for inspection,” it said.

It also pointed to the guarantee of freedom to practise and regulate one’s own faith, a right enshrined in the country’s supreme law, the Federal Constitution.

“The Federal Constitution guarantees by Article 11 (3) the right of religious communities in Malaysia to establish and maintain institutions and premises to freely profess and administer their affairs,” it added.

“The CCM further calls upon the churches in the country to stay calm, and pray that the proper authorities will act with wisdom and sensitivity and protect religious rights as provided under the Federal Constitution,” it concluded.

Jagir Singh, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), said he hoped that the Federal Court will address Section 9 of the various state enactments in 10 states - excluding Sabah, Sarawak, Penang and the Federal Territories - that prohibit non-Muslims from using up to 35 Arabic words and phrases in their faith, including “Allah”.

“The KL High Court has stated in December 2009 that it’s unconstitutional because the supreme law, the Federal Constitution, only prohibits the propagation of other faiths to Muslims,” said Jagir.

“They said it’s unconstitutional because it goes beyond Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution,” he added, referring to the clause that prohibits the proselytisation of other religious beliefs among Muslims.

“But this point was never taken up in Court of Appeal. So, it still stands,” said Jagir.

Last October, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court ruling that had upheld the Catholic Church’s constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in its weekly paper, Herald. The appellate court had ruled that the Arabic word was not integral to the Christian faith.

When contacted this afternoon, Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) chairman Rev Dr Eu Hong Seng similarly pointed out the rights of all Malaysians to freedom of religion under the Federal Constitution.

“We call upon all to respect constitutional rights of all persons, constitutional rights of non-Muslims to profess and practice their religion in peace and harmony, including the use of their own scriptures.

“We call upon all to respect the 10-point solution given by the prime minister and his Cabinet,” the leader of the umbrella body representing 90 per cent of the churches nationwide told The Malay Mail Online.

Eu was referring to the Cabinet’s decision in 2011 that allowed the Malay-language bible - the Alkitab to be freely distributed in both the Peninsula and East Malaysia.

One of CCM’s associate members is the BSM, while the CCM in turn is one of the three bodies forming the CFM.

Two BSM officials were arrested by the police today under the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 that prohibits non-Muslims in Selangor from using 35 Arabic words and phrases, including the word for God, “Allah”.

Copies of the Malay bible, the Al-Kitab, and the Iban bible, the Bup Kudus, were also seized from BSM in the joint raid by Jais and the police.

BSM president Lee Min Choon told reporters at the Damansara police station today that BSM’s Malay bibles, the Al-Kitab, are imprinted with an image of the cross and the words “Christian publication”, as required by the 10-point solution for bibles distributed in the peninsula.

The 10-point solution, which was issued by the Najib administration shortly before the Sarawak state election in 2011, allows bibles in the Malay and indigenous languages to be distributed freely without such conditions in Sabah and Sarawak.

The bible distributor added that BSM’s customers are not just the churches in Sabah and Sarawak, but also Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians, Orang Asli churches and other Malay-speaking Christians in the peninsula.

Christians make up about 10 per cent of the Malaysian population, or 2.6 million. Almost two-thirds of them are Bumiputera and are largely based in Sabah and Sarawak, where they routinely use Bahasa Malaysia and indigenous languages in their religious practices, including describing God as “Allah” in their prayers and holy book.

Jais’ raid comes after its newly-appointed director, Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad, said last Thursday that letters will be sent to all churches in Selangor to ask them to comply with the Selangor 1988 enactment.