January 2, 2014 was a sleepy day. It was a Thursday, the first working day of the year. Most people had not come back to work after the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Over the Christmas season, someone had broken into the premises of the Bible Society of Malayisa (BSM) and stole some cash. As a result, it was decided that a beefing up of the security system was in order. Thus, on the morning of January 2, a technician arrived to modify the alarm and security system. Due to the holiday period, BSM’s office and bookshop was closed for its annual stock check. As the security technician was on site, the gate to the compound as well as the metal shutters to the side door was open.
At 1.30 pm, as I was returning back from lunch in Kuala Lumpur, I got a telephone call from Grace, BSM’s office administrator. She said that there were some people from Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (JAIS) and they wanted to come in to search our office. I told Grace that JAIS have no right to enter BSM premises and instructed her not to let them in.
I was about 5 minutes away and I immediately drove to BSM office at Damansara Kim, Petaling Jaya. As I arrived at the office , there were more cars parked around our office than usual. A police car with flashing lights was parked outside our office. The shutters to our front entrance were pulled shut. I went to the side entrance to our building and saw a crowd of about 20 Malay men inside the compound. They were two police constables standing on the road outside watching.
I walked through the crowd to our side entrance. What I saw shocked me. The glass door was ajar. From the inside, our office manager Sinclair and another staff were trying to push the door shut. On the outside, three of the men had their feet in the door and were trying to pushing the door open. I pointed to Sinclair and told him to close the door. Immediately, the men surrounded me, someone grabbed my arm, another placed his palm on my chest, I heard someone say in Malay, “Siapa awak? Mengapa you suruh dia tutup pintu?” (Who are you? Why did you tell him to shut the door?)
I said to them, “Saya pengerusi. In pejabat saya. Siapa awak?” (I’m the chairman. This is my office. Who are you?)
In front of me was a middle-aged man. He was short and stocky with short curly hair, wore metal rimmed glasses and was dressed in a blue batik shirt. He said, “Kami dari JAIS. Kami datang nak siasat ada bahan-bahan mengguna kalimah Allah.” (We are from JAIS. We are here to check whether there are materials using the word Allah)
“We have Malay Bibles that use the word Allah but they are approved by KDN” (Kementerian Dalam Negeri or Home Affairs Ministry of the Malaysian Government). Our Bibles are also allowed by the Government under the Ten Points,” I said.
The man, who by now clearly seem to be the leader and spokesman of the group, replied, “That is another matter. We are here under the laws of Selangor state. We have powers to check whether you have any books that use the word Allah.”
I then shouted to Sinclair who was still pushing at the door to prevent the group from coming in, “Give me a copy of the Al-Kitab.” Sinclair handed me a copy through the crack in the door.
I showed the bible to the man, “This is the Al-Kitab. See the cover, it has the cross and the words “Christian Publication” marked on it as required by KDN.”
Turning to the first page of Genesis, I said “See, this book has the word Allah. It is all over the book. There is no need for you to come in and check. I can tell you that this book uses the word Allah.”
The man replied, “We still want to come in and check whether there are other books with the word Allah.”
“We have more copies of this book inside. I can tell you what you want to know. There is no need to come inside.”
He still inststed on coming in. I then asked him to check with KDN and that they will tell him that our bibles are all approved and allowed to be imported into Malaysia. He said that is the federal government but he is acting under state law and he has power to check. And so the argument went on. To everything I said, he had an answer. And vice versa.
All the time, Sinclair and another staff were pushing the door from the inside and this group of men were pushing from the outside. Faces were turning red, voices were raised and the words “Buka, buka” (Open, open) kept ringing out.
I could sense the men becoming more aggressive in their tone as they spoke. I wondered what would happen when the inevitable happened. Sheer brute strength and numbers would eventually force open our door. What then would they do to my staff inside? At that moment, the safety of people became more important to me than books. After all, in the past ten years I had served as President of BSM, I had seen our malay bibles seized and confiscated numerous times. On the last occasion a few years ago, an entire consignment was seized and then stamped and serialised. Except for coming face to face with brute naked force, this was nothing new.
(To be continued …. )