KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 7 — Besides reading the Quran, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said today that he had also read the Bible “every other day” when he was in prison.
The federal opposition leader who was imprisoned for six years on corruption charges in 1999, said it was an international embarrassment that Bibles were seized by religious authorities who had initially refused to return the Christian holy book in Malay and Iban languages with the word, “Allah” deemed by the religious bodies as exclusive to Muslims.
“I could assume some difficulty although I don’t, if you recall Father George, in prison, other than reading the Quran, I can assure you every other day I would also look at the Bible,” he told a predominantly Christian crowd at a hall on the Holy Family Church grounds here during a joint Deepavali-Christmas celebration here.
“I can give you quotes but not with Father George present because he is the authority”, he said, referring to Father George Harrison, the priest at the Catholic church here.
Referencing a line from the the book of John in the Bible, the de facto PKR chief said “only the truth can set you free” and not falsehoods, racism or fanaticism.
“Do not worry because there are voices from a small group, including from the Malay Muslim community in the current administration that showed the attitude which equates Islam with arrogance.
“We do not represent that view and respecting the rights of other religion does not lower our confidence in our faith,” he added.
Anwar also praised current Selangor Mentri Besar Azmin Ali for successfully convincing the state Islamic authorities to return the seized Malay and Iban-language Bibles containing the word “Allah”, in a matter of “weeks”.
The Permatang Pauh lawmaker however made no mention of reports that the seized Bibles were stamped with a warning against distributing the Bibles to Muslims and that the Bibles cannot be used in Selangor state.
Citing unnamed sources, news portal The Malaysian Insider ran a report earlier today saying the Bibles seized in January had been stamped with the warning in red letters and that national-level Christian leaders had only found out after the Bibles were returned.
Pictures purportedly of the stamped Bibles have also been making the rounds on social media apps, according to the news report.
“Strictly for non-Muslims usage only and shall not be published or used in any part of the state of Selangor pursuant to section 9 (1) Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988,” the warning read in English.
Controversy over non-Muslim use of the Arabic word for God first erupted when the Catholic Church initiated a legal suit against the federal government after it was first banned from publishing the word in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its weekly newspaper, Herald, in 2007.
The Federal Court is scheduled to review the Catholic Church’s case on January 21.
Other churches and individuals have followed and similarly sued the government for allegedly violating their constitutional freedom to practise their religion.
Though Christianity is only the third-biggest religion after Islam and Buddhism, the issue remains highly incendiary in this country where over 60 per cent of the population is Muslim.
The issue has become a religious flashpoint in a country where the line between creed and ethnicity is often blurred.