Recollections: Al-Kitab’s Chequered Past

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March 14, 2014: The seizure of 321 copies of the Malay Bible was nothing new to The Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM). The raid and the arrest of Sinclair and me, well, that was something we did not expect nor had experienced before. The following is a history of government action against the Al-Kitab leading up to the events of January 2, 2014.

1981: Before BSM was registered as a society in 1985, the predecessor of the Al-Kitab was already banned. On December 2, 1981, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an order banning the Indonesian Al-Kitab which was used by Malay-speaking East Malaysian Christians since the early days of the twentieth century. There was no local edition of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia available then. According to the gazetted order, the printing, sale, issue, circulation or possession of the Indonesian Al-Kitab was prejudicial to the security of the country.

1982:  As a result of an outcry from the Christian community, the Home Minister in 1982 modified the order to say that the ban of the Al-Kitab is subject to its possession or use only by Christians in Church. In other words, from an absolute ban, it was modified to a partial ban.

1995: BSM publishes the first ever Malaysian Malay-language Bible, the Al-Kitab: Berita Baik.

1998: A shipment of the Indonesian Al-Kitab was detained at Port Kelang by KDN (Kementerian Dalam Negeri or Home Affairs Ministry) and released only after the words “Untuk Agama Kristian” (For the Christian Religion) were stamped on the inside front cover of every copy.

2001: Another shipment of the Indonesian Al-Kitab was detained. KDN officers required the Bibles to be stamped but the BSM refused to do so. After 2 weeks, the shipment was released by KDN on the condition that the bibles should not be distributed.

2003: In March, the Iban bible, Bup Kudus, another Malaysian language Bible published by BSM was banned. The Iban word for God “Allah Ta’ala” was thought to be a use of the word “Allah.” As a result of public pressure and objection by the Christian community, the government lifted the ban a few weeks later.

In April, a shipment of 1,000 copies of the Indonesian Al-Kitab was detained by KDN at Port Kelang.

2005: In mid-2005, the Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, agreed to release the bibles on condition they be stamped with a cross and the words “Penerbitan Kristian” on the first page before they are distributed. It took another 2 years for the bibles to be released.

2006: BSM thought that KDN’s harassment of BSM imports of bibles could be avoided by having the Al-Kitab printed locally. In February, KDN officers visited BSM’s printer in Penang and ordered work on the printing of the Malaysian Al-Kitab to be stopped. After some meetings with the General Secretary, Mr. Joel Ng, KDN said that the bibles must have the cross and the words “Penerbitan Kristian” on its front cover.

2007: KDN wrote to BSM revising its earlier condition and required the words “Untuk Agama Kristian” to be imprinted on the front cover of the Al-Kitab. By that time, the covers of the Penang batch of bibles had already been prepared using the words of the earlier condition.

In 2007, the 1,000 copies of the Indonesian Al-Kitab detained by KDN in 2003 was finally released.

2009: KDN seized 5,000 copies of the Malaysian Malay Bible, the Al-Kitab Berita Baik. After complaints by the Christian community, KDN agrees to release it in 2010 but did not do so.

2011: In March, BSM initiated a prayer campaign for the release of the 5,000 copies of the Al-Kitab. Extensive press coverage and impending Sarawak state elections turned this into a national issue and embarrassment for the Federal Government. KDN agreed to release the bibles but stamped and serialized each copy before doing so. Christians cried desecration. In April, the Government issued the “Ten Points Solution” allowing the Malay Bible to be imported or printed locally provided that copies meant for West Malaysia should have the symbol of the cross and the word “Penerbitan Christian” (Christian Publication) printed on its front cover.

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