Man of the Year 2014


This website has one purpose: to document the entire episode of the raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) by Selangor’s Islamic enforcement department (JAIS) and their seizure of 321 copies of the Malay language and Iban bibles on 2 January 2014. This website’s job was almost completed when the story of the return of the bibles by the Sultan of Selangor on 15 November 2014 was published (story here).

There is one last thing to do: to name the Man of the Year for 2014.

The award of’s Man of the Year 2014 goes to the Malaysian Christian who has made the most significant contribution to the cause of the Malaysian Bible in 2014 and who more than anyone else reflects and exemplifies the principles and values taught in the Bible.

This website’s Man of the Year for 2014 is Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok.

Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok

Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok

The Anglican Church’s official website describes him as “Archbishop of South East Asia & Bishop of Kuching.

Bolly, as most Christians call him, was not involved at the start of this incident. Neither was he a member nor an officer of BSM. In August 2014, the Sultan of Selangor in his effort to resolve this incident, decided to return the bibles out of state. It was then that BSM’s new president, Anglican Bishop Datuk Ng Moon Hing, requested Bolly to receive the bibles in Kuching on behalf of BSM.

All went well from the negotiations right up to the royal ceremony at the palace on 15 November 2014 when the bibles were symbolically handed over by the head of MAIS (Selangor’s Islamic Council) to Bolly.

A few weeks later, news broke that the released bibles were stamped by MAIS. Christians protested. Muslims rallied in defence of MAIS. The Sultan had the final word when he made it clear in an interview that he knew and approved of the stamping of the bibles. The issue died down immediately. To further protest the stamping would be to challenge the Sultan himself. However, mouths may be silent but hearts were restless.

It was at this time that Bolly rose to provide spiritual leadership to Malaysia’s Christians. The Star on 13 December 2014 carried this report:

 “Sarawak Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok said there was no intention on the part of the authorities releasing the said Bibles to desecrate them or be otherwise disrespectful to the Christian community.

 “In this holy season of Christmas, which Christians, celebrate God’s ultimate generosity to mankind, let us rejoice that this matter has been settled and go forward together to build a future for our nation, which embodies unity, peace and hope,” Bolly said in a statement here yesterday.

 The association, he said, viewed the Sultan of Selangor’s intervention in gaining the release of the Bibles as a demonstration of the muhibbah spirit and an earnest call to Malaysia’s diverse religious communities to live in harmony together.

 “Change is necessary as nations grow and develop.

 “The process must involve continuing dialogue and have it conducted in a manner which affirms mutual learning and respect – the principle of muhibbah,” he said.

This was a brave statement. It did not go down well with Christians brandishing knives in their demand for justice and satisfaction (link).

However, Bolly showed that the spirit of forgiveness and peace was truly in his heart when he preached his Christmas sermon one week later saying:

“We should not be mistaken that the shepherds [in the Christmas story] were oblivious to the politics of the day. They were troubled by political oppression and injustice from the Roman colonisers. I can imagine that in the face of such injustice, their discontent would have been mounting and anger boiling in their hearts at their own helplessness.

“But God intervened with the startling proclamation that a Saviour was born for them. The shepherds did not dismiss this encounter. Instead it moved them to act, to go and see the thing that had happened, and it transformed them into the first evangelists of the church.

 “We too have our own burdens and concerns. It could be harsh political realities, or a constant struggle to make ends meet, or relationship issues. For some the situation could be so hopeless that there is nothing left to live for.

 “Yet Christmas talks about a Saviour born, God with us. Because God is present in the world, there is no person so lonely, no place so forsaken, that God cannot offer forgiveness and reconciliation, justice and mercy, healing and hope.”

 “God’s presence in the world means that nothing could separate us from his love.”

 “Let us rise from our present concerns, fears and burdens and, like the shepherds, be moved to go and see the wonderful thing that has happened.”

Every now and then, God brings challenges to His Church in Malaysia. At the centre of each crisis is a man of God’s choosing, one divinely selected to represent the Christians of Malaysia to not only manage the crisis but also to show the true face of Jesus Christ to Christians as well as the rest of Malaysia.

Bolly could have protested the stamping of the bibles and he would easily have the support of Christians. But that would mean another collision course with the Muslims of Malaysia. Bolly instead chose forgiveness and reconciliation. To some, this was an act of weakness and cowardice. But people who think that have no understanding of Jesus Christ and his teachings. Forgiving requires strength and character. It is not the human thing to do. Forgiveness comes from God and the man who forgives is doing the work of God.

The year long bible issue needed a closure that would not open old wounds again. Bolly’s gestures ended the saga with grace and dignity that was unmistakably Christian and Christlike. Even the head of MAIS was later to admit being touched by Bolly’s magnanimous gesture. Would this be the seed of healing long needed between Muslims and Christians?

Bolly did not preach peace 6 months earlier when he reflected on the assaults by some Muslims on the Christian community. In his Easter sermon on 29 March 2014, this was what he said:

 “Today, we are gathered here in Bandar Sri Aman, a town whose very name means peace. This is indeed an historic assembly. History will surely judge us by what we say and do from today henceforth. We are on a prophetic threshold as children of God.

The Bible reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:8 that there is a time for war and a time for peace. It seems a paradox that we are called to be peacemakers by our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus (Matthew 5:9). Yet at the same time we are also to brace ourselves for war. Herein lies the mystery of living out our faith in obedience to our calling as Christians and to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

In the words of a highly respected clergyman, “Because by the grace of God we are defined as family with a call to action in reconciliation, then we have to find not only the call but also the means of being reconcilers, when our instincts and passions often lead us in the opposite direction.”

If the Church is not a place both of conflict and of reconciliation, … it is a failing or failed church. It has ceased to be the miracle of diversity in unity, of the grace of God breaking down walls.

Turning the other cheek is not the right answer in this situation.

With its multi-ethno-religious makeup, Malaysia can present itself as a model to be a miracle of diversity in unity. Unfortunately, the scourge of that ethno-religious strife is fast approaching its flashpoint with extremist elements of political Islam relentlessly stoking the fire of hatred and bigotry.

How then do we live? Some among those who mean well have suggested that when slapped on one cheek we are to offer the other.

 This is half-baked theology if turning the other cheek tantamounts to sending a wrong message to the provocateurs and extremists in political Islam that we are willing to abandon our calling to being peacemakers and reconcilers.

These extremists among political Islam are, in fact, a tyranny by the minority while the rest of us including peace-loving Muslims and non-Muslims, have been sucked into the spiral of silence only to become the suffering majority. Ultimately, it is for all Malaysians of goodwill to ensure that Malaysia is not hijacked by the deluded minority.

To turn the other cheek in these circumstances is indeed to bear false witness to the Gospel of reconciliation itself. This we will not do.”

The Bolly of 29 March was different from the Bolly of 12 December. The important point is this: the evidence of true humility and obedience to God is the willingness to change. It is said that the higher a man is, the harder it is for him to change. A man of courage and conviction has nothing to be ashamed of when the change is a result of following Jesus’ example and His teachings.

Archbishop Bolly Lapok, you are a man called by God to lead His people in Malaysia in the paths of peace. You have acted and spoken admirably in difficult times. You have shown Malaysians who Jesus really is. You have also shown Malaysians that Christians are builders not destroyers and that we have within us the spirit and love that will help this nation overcome its even greater challenges in the coming year.

You are my Man of the Year 2014.


ONE YEAR LATER: How the Bibles were returned


Exactly one year ago today, Selangor’s Islamic enforcement department (Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor or JAIS) raided the office of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) and seized over 321 copies of the Alkitab, the Malay-language Bible, and the Bup Kudus, the Iban-language Bible.

A few days later, the head of Majlis Agama Islam Selangor (MAIS) said that BSM had contravened Section 9 of the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 because copies of the Bible distributed by the BSM contained the word “Allah”. The word “Allah” is among 34 words and phrases that non-Muslims cannot use in any circumstance, according to Section 9.

In June, the Attorney-General announced that BSM’s Alkitab had not violated the Selangor law and that no further action will be taken against BSM. As for the detained bibles, he advised that JAIS should act according to law. JAIS and MAIS refused to return the bibles.

A Secret Deal

In July, an old friend invited me for lunch. He said that he had been asked by parties representing the Sultan to inform us that the Sultan wanted to return of the Bibles. However, he did not wish to return the bibles in Selangor (where BSM’s office was) but asked if the bibles could be returned to BSM out of state, say, to East Malaysia. I informed my friend that I was no longer President of BSM but I would be happy convey this request to the BSM exco.

On 17 July, I wrote this e-mail to the BSM exco:

“I have received a communication from someone … informing me that the Sultan wants to return the bibles but he prefer to have the bibles sent to us in Sabah or Sarawak. He asked if we can agree to this and if so whether we can appoint a party there to receive on our behalf. He also asked that this be kept confidential.”

BSM’s exco decided to accept the Sultan’s proposal. They saw this as an appropriate closure to this unhappy episode. BSM’s new president, Bishop Ng Moon Hing then met with the people representing the palace. Thereafter, BSM appointed East Malaysian Anglican Bishop, Bolly Lapok, to work out the logistics with the Sultan’s emissaries.

By 6 August, this was accomplished in time before the meeting of the Conference of Rulers. The only thing left was for BSM to formally issue a letter appointing Sarawak’s Association of Churches (ACS) to accept the bibles on behalf of BSM.  This was done on 9 August. The agreement between the Sultan and BSM was thus concluded.

At this stage, it should be noted that other than the palace and BSM, no other party knew about or was involved in the negotiations to return the bibles. In particular, neither the State Government nor even the Federal Government were aware or involved.

Delayed by a Crisis

The quick return of the bibles was put on hold due to a crisis in the state. On 26 August, Menteri Besar (or the Chief Minister) Khalid Ibrahim resigned. His party, PKR, had been trying to unseat him for some time and eventually sacked him from the party. Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto head of PKR, wanted Wan Azizah, his wife and president of PKR, to be the new Menteri Besar. The Sultan did not agree but wanted a slate of names to be submitted for him to consider. Soon after that the Sultan went abroad. The squabble over the Menteri Besar’s post continued until the Sultan’s return. On 23 September, the Sultan appointed Azmin Ali as Selangor’s new Menteri Besar.

A Royal Ceremony

The date for the handing over ceremony was chosen, 14 November. At the palace’s insistence only representatives from ACS would be invited. No West Malaysian, in particular, BSM, would be allowed to attend. However, last minute appeals resulted in Hermen Sheshtri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, being the only West Malaysian allowed to attend.

Evidently, the new Menteri Besar had to be a participant in the ceremony. The week before the ceremony, Azmin Ali issued a number of press statements that he will be seeing the Sultan and will advise him to return the bibles and that the bibles will be returned by the following week. I was worried about the possible fallout of Azmin’s statements, particularly, that it will invite a backlash from Muslim extremist groups and scuttle the handing over ceremony. The effort over the past few months to keep this matter secret (including not posting on this blog) was at risk.

Happily, news broke in the late morning of 14 November that the ceremony had taken place. Bolly Lapok led the delegation from ACS. At the ceremony which took place in the palace, the head of MAIS handed over 2 copies of the bibles to Bolly Lapok under the gaze of the Sultan. Pictures were taken and released to the public and gentle warnings were issued that the Alkitab is not to be printed or distributed in Selangor.


The head of MAIS (second from right) handing over 2 copies of the Alkitab to Bishop Bolly Lapok (third from left) in the presence of the Sultan of Selangor (third from right).

A Surprise: Bibles stamped again

The rest of the bibles were then sent to East Malaysia care of ACS. On 2 December, BSM received news that when ACS checked the bibles on its arrival, they discovered that all the bibles had been stamped with a notice in Malay and English stating as follows:

“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”.


Compliments of JAIS and MAIS

BSM’s exco was naturally infuriated. On 7 December, they issued a statement of protest and regarded the stamping of the bibles as a desecration of the Christian scriptures.

Three years earlier, the Federal Government released a shipment of 5,000 copies of Alkitabs imported by BSM which had been detained for 2 years. On the eve of the Sarawak state elections, the government decided not to risk a backlash from the Christian voters of Sarawak. They announced the release of the bibles. The department responsible for seizing the bibles in the first place, obviously unhappy at bring forced to release the bibles, stamped the bibles as a parting shot. History repeated itself.

On 11 December, an interview of the Sultan was published (link) indicating that he knew of and approved of the stamping of the bibles. The issue abruptly came to an end as no one wanted to involve the Sultan in this controversy. With this, the saga of the seized Alkitabs came to an uneasy closure.

How Federal Court Knocked Out Herald


I have now seen a Press Summary of the majority decision of the Federal Court in the case of Titular Roman Catholic Bishop of Kuala Lumpur v. Menteri Dalam Negeri & Others (aka the Allah Case). With this, we can perform a better analysis of the judgment and understand its far-reaching effects.

It is not normal practice for the Federal Court to issue Press Summaries of the judges’ decision. Probably, the public importance of the case necessitated this interesting practice. The Press Summary for the majority decision ended with this rider: “This summary is merely to assist in understanding the Court’s judgment. The full judgment of the Court is the only authoritative document.” Presumably, the full judgment when released will not differ from the Press Summary but will expand on it.

I am only analysing the majority decision as it is the one that applies. The majority decision was announced or written by Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria (‘’CJ”). His judgment was concurred with by President of the Court of Appeal Raus Sharif, Chief Judge of Malaya Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin and Federal Judge Suriyadi Halim Othman.

I have explained previously that an appeal to the Federal Court is not automatic. There are 2 stages: first, the losing party must get leave (or permission to appeal). Certain criteria must exist. Among them, the appeal involves new questions of law of public importance or involves interpretation of the Constitution. Secondly, once leave is granted, the Federal Court then hears the substantive appeal and decides whether the Court of Appeal had made a correct decision.

The lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church (“RC”) submitted 28 questions that should be answered by the Federal Court. The CJ grouped them into 3 groups: administrative law questions, constitutional law questions and general questions. The ruling of the Court of Appeal that the use of the word Allah was not an integral part of the Christian faith fell under the 3rd group.

Let’s see how the CJ dealt with the constitutional law questions first. The RC lawyers had argued that the state laws that banned the use of the word Allah had contravened Article 11 of the Constitution and consequently were null and void. Thus, the reliance by the Home Minister on these provisions to deny the Herald the use of this word was likewise unconstitutional. The High Court accepted this argument and ruled the relevant provision in the state law as unconstitutional. The Court of Appeal disagreed and ruled that the ban in the state laws were constitutional.

The CJ chose to sidestep this issue and declared this as a non-issue. As a non-issue, it could not be decided by the Federal Court and thus the entire group of constitutional law questions were thrown out. How did the CJ do this?

The CJ ruled that the prescribed procedure had not been followed. He said that Articles  4(3) and 4(4) of the Constitution provides that in order to challenge the validity of a state law, the RC must ask for a declaration and before doing so, must get leave from a Judge of the Federal Court. The state whose law is being challenged must be made a party to the lawsuit and be given the opprtunity to defend its law. He further said that under Article 128 only the Federal Court can hear such a case.

The RC had not done that. Instead, the RC applied for judicial review in the High Court.  The state was not made a party, only the Home Minister. The CJ said that this “collateral attack” on the state law could not permitted. Thus, the CJ said that the RC’s challenge of the state laws ought not even to have been heard by the High Court Judge for 2 reasons: “procedural  non-compliance and for want of jurisdiction.”

In other words, the CJ’s reasoning is that the constitutionality of the state laws that banned the use of the word Allah was never in issue in the High Court and Court of Appeal. Both courts had entertained an issue which should not have been brought before them or be considered by them. As, the constitutional law issues were non-issues (in the sense that by reason of procedural  non-compliance and for want of jurisdiction these issues were not properly brought before the courts and thus did not exist), they could not be issues or questions for the Federal Court to decide. Thus, the Federal Court cannot grant leave to hear these issues.

I will come back to the effect of such a decision. The CJ was then only left with the administrative law questions. Everything about this centred around the test used by the Court of Appeal. The RC lawyers argued that decided cases made it clear that a judge must apply an “objective” test to determine whether the Minister had made a correct decision. They argued that the Court of Appeal judges used the subjective test. Let’s not confuse ourselves with what objective or subjective means. The CJ said that, in spite of what the Judges actually said, he was of the view that the appeal judges had used the correct test, that is, the objective test. He also went on to say that even if he did not agree with the findings of the Court of Appeal, it was not open to him to grant leave. In other words, it was not a question whether Court of Appeal had made a right or wrong decision but whether the issue they had to decide involve questions of law that had never been decided before.

With the demolition of the constitutional questions, the only question left was whether the Minister was justified in making the decision that he did. If the ban in the state law went unassaulted, it was open to the Minister to rely on it as the basis of his decision.

Coming to the general questions, these were the ones that irked the Christian community as they felt that the Court of Appeal judges had no business making a ruling of a theological nature on the Christian faith. The CJ said that these remarks by Apandi Ali JCA were obiter dictum.

Now what is obiter dictum? It is another Latin expression cherished by lawyers. In a court case, there are certain issues which have to be decided by the court in order to decide a case. The decision of a court relating to issues of a case are the ratio decidendi ( literally, the reason for a decision) of the case. Findings or remarks on other issues which are not germane or crucial to the deciding of a case are obiter dictum (literally, peripheral views). For example, Mr A sues an employment agency for sending them an incompetent typist. The judge’s finding that the typist could not type is the ratio decidendi. His remarks that she was pretty and made the rest of the staff feel happy is obiter dictum.

The CJ said that Apandi Ali’s remarks were obiter dictum because “the Minister’s decision was never premised on theological considerations.” Thus, it was a matter which Apandi Ali need not comment on but if he did, it did not matter.

Although, it was left unsaid, the CJ could have gone further to say that Apandi Ali’s remarks related to issues that were not properly brought before the court (that is, the constitutional law questions). The only issue left was the correctness of the Minister’s decision.  Any of the appeal judges’ comments outside of that would not germane to the case and would be only obiter dictum.

Now, let’s consider the effect of the majority decision of the Federal Court. By side-stepping the issue, the Federal Court basically said that they were not making any ruling or expressing any view on the question whether the ban on the use of the word Allah in the state laws are constitutional or not. By saying that procedure had not been followed and therefore the state laws were not under challenge at all, the CJ is in effect nullifying both the High Court and Court of Appeal’s rulings that relate to the issue of the constitutionality of the ban of the use of the word Allah in the state laws. Therefore, the issue is still up in the air awaiting a definitive decision.

It is open to the RC to file a case in the Federal Court, first to apply for leave, and, if obtained, to go on to ask for a declaration that the state laws are unconstitutional when it banned the use of certain words. In such a case, the RC has to cite as defendants all the states whose laws are being challenged. Thus, the Federal Court decision has not shut the door on the rights of Christians. Instead, it has re-opened the doors.

How does the Federal Court decision affect 2 pending cases, the SIB case dismissed by the High Court and on appeal to the Court of Appeal; and, the Jill Ireland case, presently awaiting decision by the High Court?

The answer is that these 2 cases will suffer the same fate as they are exactly the same in terms of procedure as the Allah Case. These are cases of judicial review and brought against the Home Minister only. It means that these cases have also followed the wrong procedure by failing to comply with Articles 4(3), 4(4) and 128 of the Constitution. If the High Court Judge follows the Federal Court majority decision, she cannot consider the question of the validity of the ban on the use of the word Allah in the state laws. She can only consider the question whether the Minister made his decision properly and in accordance with law.


Federal Court Ruling in the Allah Case: What it Means?


Today, the Federal Court dismissed the Roman Catholic Church’s appeal in the Allah case. This was an outcome not unexpected judging by the trend of recent court decisions in such cases.

I was asked today what the Federal Court decision means. For example, does it change anything?

First, we must understand what the case was all about. The Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia (RC) puts out a bulletin called the Herald. All this time, it was published in English. They wanted a Malay language version and applied to the Ministry of Home Affairs (KDN) for a licence. KDN eventually said that a licence would be given but the word “Allah” must not to be used in the Malay language Herald. The RC disagreed and filed a case in the High Court to challenge the KDN decision. To justify their decision, KDN said that certain state enactments had banned non-Muslims from using the word Allah. The RC argued that the Malay-speaking Christians in Malaysia had used this word to refer to God hundreds of years before the prohibition existed and that the ban was unconstitutional in that it violated the rights of Christians to freedom of religion under Article 11 of the Constitution.

The High Court ruled in favour of the RC. In October last year, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision. The RC then applied for leave to appeal to the Federal Court, the highest court in the land. What is this application for leave? According to the law, there is no automatic appeal from a decision of the Court of Appeal. There are 2 stages to contend with. First, the losing party must get leave or, in layman’s terms, permission to appeal. To get leave to appeal, certain criteria must exist. One of them is that the appeal involves interpretation of the Constitution. Secondly, once leave is granted, the Federal Court then hears the substantive appeal and decides whether the Court of Appeal had made a correct decision. There is no further appeal from the Federal Court.

It is fair to say that the Federal Court decision could be confined to its facts as argued by some quarters, namely, it just means that the KDN was justified in refusing a licence if the RC wanted to use the word Allah in the Malay language Herald. However, it is likely that courts will adopt a wider application of the Court of Appeal decision as seen in the recent decision in the SIB case in May when the Kuala Lumpur High Court refused to entertain SIB’s application for judicial review of KDN’s seizure of SIB’s Malay language Sunday School materials. The Judge had said that she was bound by the Court of Appeal decision and thus had to dismiss SIB’s application.

Coming back to the question: what changes have resulted from the Federal Court decison?

I would say none. The status quo started from October 2013 when the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision. In effect, it affirmed the validity of the ban against non-Muslims using the word Allah. Since October last year, the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) was raided and 321 Malay and Iban bibles were seized by the Selangor Islamic department (JAIS). So, the legal status from October last year to today when the Federal Court announced its decision has actually not altered.

Recently, the Attorney-General (AG) announced that the JAIS raid on BSM was wrong and that BSM had committed no offences that deserved prosecution. In spite of being challenged by the Selangor Islamic  Council (MAIS), the AG had affirmed his decision that no action will be taken against BSM. Even the Prime Minister called on all parties to respect the AG’s decision.

It should be noted that the AG’s decision was made during the regime of the Court of Appeal decision. As the Federal Court today chose not to touch the Court of Appeal decision, it means that things continue as they were since October last year. In other words, nothing had changed including the correctness of the AG’s decision.

To sum up, the reality in Malaysia today is as follows:

  • The finding by the Court of Appeal that state enactments banned non-Muslims from using the word Allah was not overturned and therefore still stands.
  • KDN would be justified in imposing the condition that the word Allah not be used when it issues publishing licences.
  • Non-Muslims may not use the word Allah in states that have laws banning its use. In states without such laws, non-Muslims are not banned from using the word, eg. Sabah, Sarawak, Federal Territory and Penang.
  • It is not an offence against such state enactments to import, print and use the Alkitab, the Malay language bible, even though the word Allah is used.

This is a quick response to the events of today. I will write more about the implications for Christians later.


The Nature of Forgiveness


Forgiveness is perhaps one of the most controversial of Christian duties. Easy to talk about but difficult to practice. 

Christians in Malaysia are angry over the way they are being treated. In the past few years, bibles have been seized, our religious vocabulary restricted, church buildings firebombed and the entire community villified and made the scapegoat for part of the nation’s ills. 

At a time like this, we struggle with Jesus’ teaching in his Sermon on the Mount. Surely, he was asking the impossible of us when he said:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)

Jesus asked us to adopt a response under persecution that suggests weakness and encourages the persecutor:

“Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also … If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39,41)

With some interpretive wizardry, perhaps we can make these verses say the opposite. But the logic of interpreting these words to mean an aggressive or retaliatory response breaks down when we look at Jesus’ own conduct when he himself was persecuted.

Jesus did not resist when he was arrested. Peter tried to prevent Jesus arrest by drawing a sword and injuring one of the arresting party. Jesus miraculously healed the injured man and rebuked Peter as follows:

“Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54)

During his trial before the Roman governor, Jesus made no defence but declared that he will not resist the Roman legal process he was subjected to. He said:

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36)

As he hung on the cross, Jesus prayed for his persecutors: those who conspired against him, who brought false charges against him and who perverted the law in order to slay him. Read what Jesus said:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)

Like every Christian, I was infuriated by JAIS’ raid on the Bible Society, the way my colleague and I were manhandled and hauled off to the police station and our sacred books unceremoniously bundled into vans used to transport khalwat offenders and transvestites. Two days after the event, I obtained my society’s mandate to take whatever legal action necessary. In the days that followed, as I reflected on Jesus Christ and on his teachings and example, it became clear that the greatest hurdle was not the systematic infringement of the Christian community’s  legal and constitutional right to freedom of religion. Our greatest enemy was ourselves and the demon threatening to possess us was the natural human urge to satisfy that bloodlust for vengeance. The defeat facing us not legal or political but spiritual. When we show a distorted and perverted picture of Jesus Christ and His Church to the nation, we would have lost everything.

The Spirit of God provides to God’s people in sufficient measure love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). 

The events of the past few days (viz. JAIS’ refusal to follow directives of the Attorney-General and the Menteri Besar to return the bibles) have caused many to question whether forgiving JAIS was premature or undeserved.

Christian forgiveness is unconditional. On the cross, Jesus Christ forgave his persecutors even though they were unrepentant and offered no apology. Jesus also knew the future. The night before, he warned his disciples that those who seek his death will also persecute his disciples in the future. Yet, he forgave these men knowing that their future actions will be undeserving of the kindness he showed them.

Christians forgive because it is the right and Christian thing to do. We also forgive because God through Jesus Christ forgave us of our sins and bestowed on us the privilege of being in God’s family.

“When you were dead in your sins … God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins … he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14)

As God has forgiven us, so we forgive those who sinned against us. We pray for them hoping that their wrongs will not blind them to the truth and preventing them from receiving God’s forgiveness and blessing of eternal life.

My last post suggested that JAIS be relieved of their appointment as enforcers of the 1988 Selangor anti-propagation law. This does not conflict with forgiveness. One can be forgiven of wrongdoing. But if possible the offender should not be placed in a position to continue doing wrong. For example, even a child molester can be forgiven but he should not be entrusted with the care of children.

Lastly, forgiving goes hand in hand with trusting God. Again, Jesus is the example:

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps … When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21,23)

Our trust in God was vindicated a few days ago when the AG announced his finding that BSM had broken no law, that the case be closed and the bibles be returned. JAIS is unable to accept the AG’s decision. Christians must be patient and continue to trust God that the solution that God wants to give to us will come about eventually.

Khalid, Show Them Who’s the Boss


The rejection of the Attorney-General’s decision by MAIS and JAIS and their refusal to return Bibles seized from BSM has precipitated a crisis in Selangor state (see link).

Firstly, there is now a crisis of confidence in the State government. A state department has declared its autonomy of the Menteri Besar and the State EXCO. They answer to no one. They have taken upon themselves to be infallible interpreters of the law to the extent that they reject the decision of the AG. In doing so, they have undermined the AG’s constitutional role as the final arbiter of all criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Secondly, MAIS and JAIS by their recent announcements have stated that they regard the Malay and Iban Bible to be in breach of Selangor law in spite of what the AG has said. The practical implication of this is that JAIS with the approval of MAIS will carry out further raids on BSM as they regard BSM as lawbreakers in spite of what the AG has said. Further, they will also raid churches that have and use the Malay or Iban bibles, arrest Christian pastors and priests and seize more bibles in spite of what the AG has said. It matters not that the AG will refuse to prosecute. MAIS and JAIS will continue to act on their own and in defiance of the law as interpreted by the AG until their exhibit rooms are filled with seized bibles. Christians and churches will live in fear of JAIS.

The MAIS and JAIS stand is unprecedented and a dangerous anomaly in modern government. There is no such thing as a government department that is not accountable and not subject to law as interpreted by those constitutionally appointed to interpret it.

Also, MAIS and JAIS’s recalcitrance have shown that they have become unqualified and unfit to enforce the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988. 

What can the State EXCO do? Clearly, they must protect the people of Selangor from an uncontrollable department. They can easily do this by revoking the Gazette Notification published in 1999 that appointed MAIS and JAIS officials as enforcement officers under the 1988 Selangor Enactment.

This incident have demonstrated the folly of appointing officers of one religion to police adherents of other religions. It is very clear that the job of enforcement should be given to secular authorities like the police to prevent religious bias from perverting the course of justice.

Enforcement  officers under the 1988 Selangor Enactment are appointed by the Ruler in council. This means that the Sultan of the State appoints the enforcement officers on the advice of the State EXCO. Thus, the revocation of such appointments are also on the same basis. 

Understanding the AG’s Decision


Was the Attorney-General’s decision not to charge the Bible Society of Malaysia for using the  word “Allah” in the Malay Bible founded on law and a proper interpretation of the law?

The AG concluded that the Malay Bible does not fall under Section 9(1) of the Non-Muslim Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of Selangor.

The key to understanding how the AG came to this conclusion lies in his use of certain terminology. His statement originally made in Bahasa Malaysia states as follows:

 “Keterangan menunjukkan buku-buku yang dirampas adalah Bible dalam versi Bahasa Malaysia dan Alkitab Berita Baik adalah himpunan buku Taurat, Zabur dan Injil yang merupakan buku asas penganut agama Kristian.”

Roughly translated into English:

 “The statements [recorded from witnesses] show that the confiscated books are the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia and the Alkitab Berita Baik is a compilation of the Torah, Psalms and Gospels which are the basic books of the Christian religion.”

The AG used the expression “buku asas … agama” (English: “basic religious book”). He could have used a variety of expressions to describe the Malay Bible, for example, buku suci (“holy book”). However, the term “buku asas agama” used by the AG was taken from the terminology found inside the 1988 Selangor Enactment itself. Let me explain.

Section 9(1) of Selangor Enactment No. 1 of 1988 states that “a person commits an offence if he in any published writing uses certain Quranic words (eg. “Allah”) to express or describe anything pertaining to a non-Islamic religion.

It should be noted that Section 9 prohibits a non-Muslim in a published writing or in a public speech from using the word Allah in a non-Islamic context. In the heat of the recent debate, it was commonly assumed that the use of the word Allah in the Al-Kitab is a contravention of Section 9. However, what has been overlooked is the intention of Selangor Enactment No. 1 of 1988 to recognise and give due respect to the holy books of non-Islamic faiths.

Section 2 of Selangor Enactment No. 1 of 1988 defines the word “publication” as follows:

“publication” includes any book, magazine, pamphlet, leaflet, sound-recording material, cinematograph films and any other material for reading, viewing or hearing howsoever produced

However, Section 2(2) and (3) further clarifies:

(2)       For the purpose of this Enactment, a publication shall be held to be one concerning a non-Islamic religion if it is considered by the followers or members of that religion to be a holy or fundamental book or one of the essential texts of that religion (hereinafter referred to as “basic religious book”) …

 (3)       Notwithstanding that a publication is a publication concerning a non-Islamic religion by reason that it falls under subsection (2), it shall not form the subject of an offence under this Enactment if the publication as a whole is in the interest of Muslim or the religion of Islam.

Thus, the Enactment in Section 2 recognised the existence of holy or fundamental books or essential texts of non-Islamic religions and classified them under the expression “basic religious book.”

The word “publication” as appears in the Enactment includes “basic religious books” and secondary religious writings of a non-Islamic nature. Thus, it is an offence under Section 7 to send any non-Islamic holy books to a Muslim. Similarly, it is an offence under Section 8 to distribute non-Islamic holy books in a public place to a Muslim.

When Section 9 created the offence of using banned words, it used the expression “published writing” like an article, a book or an internet blog. In other words, an individual (note: the words “a person”) cannot in contemporaneous writings like articles published in books, newspapers, magazines, internet, etc, use the word Allah with a non-Islamic reference.

However, Section 9 has no application to pre-existing non-Islamic holy books. If Section 9 intended to refer to holy books of non-Islamic religions, it would not have used the words “published writing” only but instead would have used or included the expressions created in Section 2, namely, “basic religious books.”

In creating the expression “basic religious books” in Section 2, the Enactment was recognising the existence of non-Islamic holy books like the Al-Kitab which predated the Enactment and indeed the foundation of Malaysia as a modern independent nation. Nothing in the Enactment seeks to prohibit non-Islamic holy books even if they contained the banned words. It only prohibited the sending or distributing of non-Islamic holy books to Muslims.

In fact, Section 2(3) even recognised the possibility of certain non-Islamic holy books as being “friendly” to Islam and provided a blanket exemption, namely, that “it shall not form the subject of an offence under this Enactment if the publication as a whole is in the interest of Muslim or the religion of Islam.” It is my understanding that Islam has traditionally recognised the holy books of the Christians, in particular, that there is a continuity in revelation from the Christian religion to the Islamic religion. However, this is an area for the experts to comment on.

Clearly, the Enactment does not intend to make holy books of non-Islamic religions as contraband articles. It does not prohibit the use of words like Allah in the holy books of non-Islamic religions like the Christian Al-Kitab or the Sikh Granth Sahib.

This view finds support from the recent Court of Appeal decision in Menteri Dalam Negeri & 8 lain lawan Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur [2013] 6 MLJ 468 commonly known as the Allah case. YA Dato’ Abdul Aziz Bin Abdul Rahim JCA said at page 505:

“Nevertheless, I think neither the historical evidence nor the fact that the word ‘Allah’ appears in Al-Kitab (which is the Malay version of the Bible) is a sufficient justification for the [Home Minister] not to consider imposing the prohibitive condition of the usage of the word ‘Allah’ in the Herald. The Al-Kitab and the Herald are two publications of entirely different character. The Al-Kitab is the Malay version of the Bible — so, it is obvious that it meant only for Christians. Moreover the Ministry of Home Affairs had already specified the condition that the Al-Kitab is to be used in churches and among Christians only; and that the words ‘BUKAN UNTUK ORANG ISLAM’ are to be printed clearly and conspicuously on the front page of the Al-Kitab. This condition is obvious from the Ministry’s letter dated 24 April 2007 to the respondent — in paras 10–12. Whereas the Herald is a newsletter or in the same category as a newspaper (albeit with restricted circulation) which is used or likely to be used as the mouthpiece for the Catholic church to disseminate informations on the activities of the Catholic church or Catholic congregations. It is acknowledged by learned counsel for the respondent that as of today the Herald is accessible online. This online accessibility means that the Herald can be read by anybody — be it Muslim or non-Muslim. For this reason, I am of the view that the permission given by the Ministry for the printing and publication of Al-Kitab in which the word ‘Allah’ appears cannot be treated in the same manner as the printing and publication of the Herald with the usage of the word ‘Allah’.”

The other two judges say nothing about the Al-Kitab but both say they agree in toto with Justice Abdul Aziz.

In conclusion, a careful reading of Selangor Enactment No. 1 of 1988 shows that neither the use of the word Allah in the Al-Kitab nor the use or possession of the Al-Kitab by Christians constitute offences under Selangor Enactment No. 1 of 1988.

This, I suggest, was the AG’s understanding and interpretation. That was why he used the expression “buku asas agama” which was the rough variation of the 1988 Enactment’s expression “basic religious book.” Recognising that the Al-Kitab is a basic religious book of the Christians, it was therefore logical for him to conclude that the Al-Kitab does not fall under Section 9 of the 1988 Enactment and that the use of the word Allah in the Al-Kitab does not constitute an offence at all.








Time for Malaysia to Close Ranks: End to Bible Issue


Just now a reporter called me and informed me that the Attorney-General has announced that no action will be taken in the case of the Malay Bibles seized from The Bible Society of Malaysia (see Malaysian Insider; Malay Mail Online). Thus, the case is closed. He asked me for my comment.

I told him that I am no longer President of BSM and that he should talk to BSM’s new president. He insisted that since the incident happened while I was President, he wanted to know how I feel about the latest development. I then obliged him with my personal comment which I reproduce below.

I have always believed that the Attorney-General will come to this conclusion. From the moment, JAIS raided BSM, arrested me and my colleague and seized 321 BM Bibles, we knew that JAIS had made a terrible mistake. Nevertheless, it has been a trying experience to endure 6 months of uncertainty of whether we are lawbreakers or law-abiding citizens until the nation’s highest legal officer confirmed that the Malay Bible did not breach any of the laws of Malaysia or its states (in my next post, I will provide the legal reasoning for this).

I thank God for the grace and fortitude that He has given to my colleagues in BSM and me to trust that God will bring about a just end to this controversy.

I now call upon all Christians in Malaysia to follow the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ to forgive, put this incident behind us and go on with our duty as responsible citizens of Malaysia to build our nation on the foundation of peace and harmony.

I call on Christians to forgive JAIS. They were doing their job but they had wrongly interpreted the law. No one is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. Let us forgive them just as Christ forgave us.

With the AG’s announcement, I now have an iron-clad case to sue JAIS for wrongly arresting me. Shall I do it? Of course not. I forgave JAIS a long time ago and have no intention to sue them or to punish them in any way. The AG’s announcement is better than any court judgment. There is nothing to be gained from a law suit except to satisfy a lust for vengeance. This is unchristian.

I hope the Church in Malaysia will put this incident behind us and concentrate on how God wants the Church to contribute to the life and the future of this nation.

Likewise, I call on JAIS to have the same spirit of goodwill to return the bibles quickly and implement the necessary measures in their administration to ensure that this incident will not be repeated.

Lessons from Terezin


It’s been one month since my last post. I stepped down as President of the Bible Society of Malaysia on May 10 after completing a maximum 5-year term. On the very next day, I flew to Munich to chair the annual meeting of the Global Council of Advocates International, the worldwide organisation of Christian lawyers. I managed to catch holidays in Salzburg and Prague and here I will tell a travel story.

A most moving experience happened in Prague, Czech Republic. Prague has the appearance of a fairy tale city. There is so much of glitz to see but what caught my imagination was a tour to Terezin Concentration Camp and a walk through the Jewish Quarter of Prague. During 11 idyllic days in scenic Europe, the discrimination against religious minorities in Malaysia was never far from my mind. I wanted to see a facet of Prague that dealt with how discrimination in their society festered until it led to tragedy.

The Jews came to Prague, capital of Bohemia, in the 10th century. They were resented by the local population. The reasons were many. They were ethnically and culturally different. Often, that is enough to raise fears. Perhaps, the key reason was economic. In spite of restrictions placed on Jews, they prospered. Retrictions on trading and commerce only served to spur the Jews to succeed to the extent that they became money lenders to Europe. Nobody loves a money lender. Shakespeare in his “Merchant of Venice” portrayed the Jew as an unscrupulous money lender.

Prague’s rulers confined the Jews to a ghetto. They could not live or trade outside a walled city. They had to be indoors by night. This restriction on their movement meant that they could not take their dead for burial outside of the ghetto.

Jewish cemetery, Prague.

Jewish cemetery, Prague.

The picture above is taken inside the Jewish Cemetery. Prague’s Jews had to bury all their dead in the cemetery even though it was fully used. Over a period of 300 years,  20,000 people were buried in a small cemetery meant for only a few thousand. Up to twelve persons were buried in one spot, one on top of another. Gravestones jammed up around each other marked a final resting spot shared by multiple corpses.

In 1389, the church spread a rumour that the Jews had desecrated the host (ie the wafer and the wine used in the Eucharist). Some children had thrown stones at the host as it was carried past the Jewish quarter in a Good Friday procession. The Jews were blamed by the Christians for offending the religious sensitivities of the Christians. It did not matter that it was not true. People believed it. Or rather, they wanted to believe that it was true. It reminded me of the news back home just before we left. At a conference in a university, Christians were blamed for various ills in the Muslim community. Does it matter that it was not true?

Anyway, on Easter the Christians of Prague attacked the Jews in their ghetto. 3,000 Jews were massacred. As a result many Jews left Prague. Later, Bohemia’s rulers would regularly issue decrees ordering Jews to leave Prague. Go back where you came from! This is a cry that is always heard wherever discrimination rears its ugly head. It was only during the rule of some of Prague’s liberal rulers that the Jewish population in Prague recovered. Yet, for Jews who stayed, they had to live with a host of discriminatory laws regulating their private and social lives, trade, education, etc.

The ultimate discrimination took place during the Second World War. Hitler decided that the Jews was a curse to the purity of Europe’s Aryan races and therefore shoud be exterminated. Prague played an important role in Hitler’s plans. All the treasures and artifacts plundered from the Jews all over Europe by the Nazi Armies were ordered to be sent to Prague. Hitler had planned to use Prague’s Jewish Quarter as a museum of the Jewish people after he had exterminted them. That is why the Jewish Museum in Prague which is spread out over half a dozen synagogues and ceremonial halls has the best collection of Jewish treasures and museum pieces.

The Nazis sent Prague’s 70,000 Jews to live in another ghetto, the walled city of Terezin about 60 kilometres north of Prague. Terezin was built one hundred years earlier to protect Prague from an invasion from the north by Prussia. The attack never came and a smaller fortress a few kilometres outside Terezin was used to hold political prisoners of the Austrian Empire. The Nazis used the bigger fortress, the walled city of Terezin, to house the Jews of Prague and the smaller fortress as a prison and transit point for moving up to 300,000 Jews to the extermination camps to the East like Auschwitz, Treblinka, etc. Throughout the war, Terezin housed up to 144,000 Jews transported from all over Europe. Over 33,000 died in Terezin while another 88,000 were eventually transported to the death camps.

Cell blocks of Terezin's smaller fortress

Cell blocks of Terezin’s smaller fortress

Among the prisoners of Terezin were 10,000 of Prague’s Jewish children. After the war, only 250 survived. The names of all the children who died are engraved on the walls of the school house in Terezin. Writings and drawings by the children adorn the museums there as a testimony to a people who continued to organise education, promote art and culture even though they knew that death was appoaching. When Terezin was liberated by the Soviet armies, over 60,000 of Prague’s Jews had perished. The Nazis cremated as many of the corpses as they could and dumped the ashes in the river. After the war, the incinerators continued to be used for months to cremate the rest of the dead.

Go on a tour of Terezin when you visit Prague. Let it bring you back to the reality of life in this world. Walk through the Jewish Quarter of Prague and see the ugliness of human nature behind the gold and gild of Prague’s towers and monuments.

The drawings and writings of Holocaust victims in their museums is a stark reminder of their existence and their sorrowful struggle against bigotry and discrimination. The movie “The Monuments Men” is based on the true story of a small squad of soldiers assigned to recover the art treasures of Europe looted by Nazi armies. George Clooney’s character gives a speech to his men about the importance of their mission: “They can kill people and destroy their cities. They may be gone forever. Their art is the only evidence that they have ever existed.”

Discrimination begins with a perception, a perceived threat from a minority to the majority’s way of life, identity or self-respect. This perceived threat becomes the basis for discriminatory laws and policies in the name of protection of the majority. The minority is then isolated, disempowered and regulated. The power of the media is called up every now and then to frighten people about the threat posed by the minority. Eventually, when people are told that even laws and policies cannot subdue the minority, the only solution (for the Nazis, the final solution) left is extermination.


Silence Does Not Mean Yes


There is a saying “Silence means consent.” Only a fool believes in such a saying. There is no such principle in law. If an accused person remains silent in court when a charge is read against him, the court will call on the prosecution to prove his guilt. A rapist cannot claim innocence by saying that the female victim did not object.

Just now, a reporter called me. He said that it’s been 120 days since JAIS seized 321 Malay and Iban bibles from BSM. He asked whether the bibles have been returned. I told him, No.

He also told me that he called the Attorney General’s Chambers and asked about status of this case. The officer he spoke to said that they are not interested in charging BSM and please don’t disturb the AG.

Any prosecution under the Selangor Enactment must be prosecuted by the Attorney General. As one of the appointed enforcers of the Enactment, JAIS may investigate and present their investigation papers (known as the “IP”) with all the evidence and their recommendation to prosecute BSM to the Attorney General. If there is evidence that an offence has been committed, the Attorney General will then commence proceedings in the Magistrate’s Court in Shah Alam to charge BSM or me or Sinclair Wong for committing an offence under the Enactment. Then we will have to defend ourselves and the Magistrate’s Court will decide if we have committed an offence or not.

Reviews of the video recordings of the raid on BSM and the arrest show the senior JAIS officer saying “I arrest you under Section 9 of the Enactment.”

When my statement was recorded in JAIS’  office on 10 January 2014, the recording officer asked: “Do you know that your bible contravened the Enactment?”

Section 9 says that it is an offence to use any prohibited words (in this case, the word “Allah”) in a published writing to describe anything pertaining to a non-Islamic religion. Thus, the raid, arrest  and investigation by JAIS was predicated on the premise that the use of the word “Allah” in our Malay and Iban bibles was in contravention of Section 9 of the Enactment.

When JAIS submitted their IP to the AG, the AG had 2 choices: to charge BSM or not to take any action. According to various press statements made by the Selangor State EXCO, the IP was submitted by JAIS in either late January or early February. Three months have passed and the AG has not taken any action. If what was told by the AG’s office to the reporter is to be believed, the AG has decided not to charge BSM with the offence that JAIS thinks BSM had committed when we published and imported the Malay and Iban bibles.

I can imagine what happened at the AG’s office. When the IP from JAIS landed on his table, the AG would have looked at it with his officers.

“Shall we charge, Tan Sri?”

“You must be joking!”

“JAIS says they are guilty, Tan Sri. They should know. They are very religious people.”

“No, no. No way am I touching this case.”

“So, shall I inform JAIS, Tan Sri?”

“What! No, no! Let them clean up their own mess.”

So, if the AG does not charge, it means that the case submitted to him by JAIS does not raise the minimum evidence for him to prosecute and win the case.

The silence of the AG does not mean that he is looking at the case and considering whether to charge. Silence does not mean pending especially when it it is unreasonably prolonged.

A Section 9 offence is a very simple case. BSM used the word “Allah” in the Malay and Iban bibles. We are not denying it. So, either we have committed an offence or we have not. Simple as that. Our AG is no fool. He does not need more than 3 months to decide a case as simple as this.

The reporter also asked me if this is the case, why is it that JAIS still does not return the bibles. I told him he has to ask this question of JAIS, not me.

This is a question everyone is asking. Why doesn’t  JAIS return the bibles? After all, the only reason for keeping the bibles is to use it as exhibits in a prosecution of BSM in court. If there is not going to be a prosecution, then there is no reason for keeping the bibles.

Let me say that even if BSM is prosecuted, only one copy of the Al-Kitab needs to be produced in court as an exhibit. JAIS can use the copy that they bought from BSM bookstore in August 2013. They don’t need 321 bibles to prove their case.

The reason why JAIS does not want to return the bibles is that this would amount to an admission that they had wrongly raided BSM on 2 January, wrongly arrested BSM’s officers and wrongly interpreted the law. The return of the bibles would result in a massive blow to JAIS’ prestige.

Selangor State EXCO in many press statements had said that JAIS was justified in carrying out the raid and that they had acted within the law. The return of the bibles would also be an indictment against the Selangor government. They would be seen as backing an unjustified raid against non-Muslims for the exercise of their faith.

Too many sins have been committed. It is better to hold on to the bibles and tell the public that they are waiting for the AG to say something. Hopefully, if they hold out long enough, everybody will forget about it.