I had opened a Pandora’s Box when I issued a protest statement on behalf of BSM on March 16, 2011 accusing KDN of desecrating our holy books by stamping them and marking them with serial numbers. In spite of Idris Jala’s press statement on March 22 about the concessions to be made by the Federal Government, the tide of Christian anger refused to abate.
The issue was played up by opposition parties in anticipation of the Sarawak State Elections due to be held in early April. On the evening of Wednesday, March 23, over 3,000 Christian pastors attended a rally in Kuching. They expressed extreme disgust with the Government’s treatment of the Al-Kitab. Their mood and their influence over Christian voters in Sarawak spelled potential disaster for the ruling party in the approaching state elections. On the other side, UMNO politicians defended the Government and belligerent media statements issued from Nazri Aziz, a cabinet member, Pembela a fundamentalist Muslim lawyer group and the Mufti of Perak.
On Friday, March 25, Idris Jala called BSM and informed us that the Government had basically agreed to the 2005 position.
Now, what is the 2005 position? In 2003, KDN detained 1,000 Al-Kitabs. In order to break the impasse, CFM suggested that in future all Al-Kitabs will carry the symbol of the cross and the words “Penerbitan Kristian” (A Christian Publication) on its cover. This was accepted by then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi in a letter to the head of CFM.
At this stage, the Government had conceded to all the demands made by BSM. As for the unfortunate incident of the stamping of our bibles, the Government had offered to compensate us for it. Added to that was one more concession which we did not expect, namely, in order to prevent a recurrence of this incident, the Government would take disciplinary action against any civil servant if they detain Al-Kitabs which complied with the 2005 agreement. It appears that the Government had agreed to everything we asked for and more.
The next day, on Saturday March 26, the BSM exco attended the funeral of past-president, Mr Diong Chin San. We discussed the latest Government offer and felt that with this offer, we had achieved all that we had asked for. Tensions were still running high and a CFM meeting due to be held on March 29 would probably produce a strongly worded media statement against the Government that may worsen the Christian – Government/Muslim relations. We did not feel comfortable about our bibles remaining in KDN custody and feared the possibility of further desecration or even possibly destruction of our bibles if the situation got out of hand. Thus, we decided that a closure of the issue for BSM was necessary with the immediate collection of our bibles before anything else could happen.
On Monday March 28, BSM informed CFM of our decision to collect our bibles. However, on the request of the head of CFM, we decided to postpone it till after CFM had met on March 29. This meeting had been called to consider the Government’s offer to resolve the Malay Bible issue as communicated by Idris Jala.
CFM met on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 29. BSM and Gideons, the bible importers who had their bibles detained by KDN were invited to address the meeting. There was a range of views over how the Christians should respond to the Government’s offer. On behalf of BSM, I informed CFM about our intention to collect our bibles. The overwhelming majority preferred BSM not to do so. I was not agreeable to this. Leaving the bibles with KDN would only keep the detention of our bibles alive as a political issue especially with the Sarawak State elections due in 2 weeks time. I insisted that BSM must not get involved with politics. If it is time to collect the bibles, then we will collect our bibles. After all, the Government had completely capitulated. At the end of the meeting, CFM decided to leave it to the importers whether to collect their bibles or not.
The next day, BSM informed the public about their collection of the 5,000 Al-Kitabs from KDN by the following press statement:
“In view of KDN’s tendency to take arbitrary action without consultation of affected parties or respect for the religious sensitivities of the Christian community, BSM decided to collect the 5,000 copies of the Al Kitab to prevent the possibility of further acts of desecration or disrespect being committed against the holy books of the Christians by KDN and its officers.
The 5,000 copies of the Al Kitab that have been defaced by KDN cannot be sold to Christian buyers. Instead, they will be respectfully preserved as museum pieces and as a heritage for the Christian Church in Malaysia. This unfortunately will result in a loss of RM70,000 for BSM.
Concerning the offer to compensate BSM for the costs of this shipment, BSM wish to make its stand clear that BSM will only accept a cheque from KDN and will not accept any money from so-called Christian donors.”
The issue started to subside in the press when BSM collected the detained Al-Kitabs.
Early in the morning of Sunday, April 3, before I left my house to go to church, I read in the newspaper a media statement made by Idris Jala on behalf of the Government. He announced the solution to the decade-long issue of the detention of the Malay Bible and reduced the various measures agreed to by the Government to ten points. Hence, this was called “the Ten Points Solution.” The salient points are:
- The Malay Bible may be imported or printed locally.
- For East Malaysia, taking into account the large Christian community, no conditions will be attached to the importing and printing of the Bible in all languages including Bahasa Malaysia.
- For West Malaysia, taking into account the interest of the larger Muslim population, bibles imported or printed in Malay or Bahasa Indonesia must have the words “Christian Publication” and the cross imprinted on its front cover.
- There are no prohibtions or restrictions on Christians bringing their bibles with them when they travel between West Malaysia and East Malaysia.
- A directive has been issued by the Chief Secretary of the Government to ensure compliance with the Cabinet decision. Failure to do so will subject government officers to disciplinary action.
- The owners of the impounded bibles can collect them free of charge and the Government will ensure that they be reimbursed.
At the end of his media statement, Idris made a startling and unprecedented remark. He called on the Christian community to forgive the Government over this incident. In all my years, I had never seen the Government, firstly, admitting they had done anything wrong, and, secondly, asking to be forgiven.
As I drove to a church in Kuala Lumpur which had invited me to give a sermon on the topic “Grace,” I wondered what should be the Christian response. In my sermon to the church, I asked them what they thought and suggested that they may speak with me about this after the service. A group of us gathered round to discuss this. The crucial question that came to our minds was: What would Jesus do?
The answer was obvious. Jesus had taught non-retaliation and showing love and forgiveness to one’s persecutors in his Sermon on the Mount. Impractical? Naive? Well, Jesus practiced what he preached. When Jesus was crucified, he prayed for all those who conspired his unjust arrest and execution saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
I contacted the rest of the BSM exco members and very soon, I received a mandate to make the following press statement on behalf of BSM:
“BSM deeply appreciates the Government’s 10-point solution which is not only an affirmation of the 2005 agreement but also include additional safeguards to ensure that incidents that have recently been the bone of contention should not happen again.
BSM is also deeply touched by the Government’s humility in admitting to shortcomings in the handling of the Al Kitab issue and their request for forgiveness. BSM, without hesitation, forgives. BSM also releases the Government of any obligation, legal or moral, to compensate BSM for the 5,000 copies of the Al Kitab that cannot be sold.”
A few days later, The Ten Points Solution was formally communicated to the Christian community in a letter from the Prime Minister addressed to the head of CFM.
With the Ten Points Solution, it was open for BSM to import Malay Bibles without the unpleasant experiences of the past. With great excitement, I said to Rev Simon Wong, the general secretary of BSM, “Let’s bring in a big shipment of Malay bibles now.”
“We have no more money to buy bibles,” Simon answered, “You gave up RM70,000 when you forgave the Government.”